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SC grants respite: UIDAI, central and state governments, and companies must reveal all their plans for Aadhaar

With Supreme Court extending the date for linking Aadhaar numbers to services like bank accounts and mobile phones till it decides the Aadhaar Act’s constitutionality, citizens can stop worrying about the March 31 deadline that was veering closer. The apex court has adumbrated an excellent principle, at least for now, that Aadhaar can be made mandatory for disbursing subsidies, but not for services. This deserves to be the basis of the final judgment as well, with perhaps a few narrowly defined exceptions.

There is a case, for example, for using Aadhaar to de-duplicate PAN cards – since an individual cannot be allowed to have multiple PAN cards. But once this has been done there can be no rationale for requiring citizens to painfully go about linking all kinds of financial accounts already seeded with PAN numbers with Aadhaar. That kind of approach is already spawning a digital licence raj leading to denial of service in many areas, exacerbated by common technical problems such as biometric authentication failures and poor internet connectivity. Given the SC’s recent judgment that the right to privacy is a fundamental right, there is need as well for a robust law that protects data privacy.

UIDAI has always argued that Aadhaar authentication returns only a Yes/ No response and no other details about a person. It also claims that the specific purpose of authentication or the location of a transaction, which could have been used for surveillance, is not stored by it. However, UIDAI officials conveniently gloss over the alleged availability of Aadhaar numbers and Aadhaar card information with banks, telecom/ insurance companies, and state governments. Nothing stops some of these entities from linking Aadhaar biometric information with 360° data about a person. The absence of a data protection law only emboldens such tendencies. The new privacy rights granted by the SC must be tested, therefore, against potentially coercive and exploitative harvesting of big data.

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