India

Aadhaar Constitutionally Valid but With Riders Supreme Court has said that private companies such as banks and telecom companies can't insist on Aadhaar

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The Supreme Court of India has ruled that Aadhaar is constitutionally valid through a 4:1 majority verdict. However, several sections of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 have been struck down.

Justice AK Sikri read out the majority verdict on behalf of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice AM Khanwilkar. While Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Ashok Bhushan read out their judgements separately.

While Justice Bhushan mostly concurred with Justice Sikri, Justice Chandrachud was the only dissenting voice on the bench and called the Aadhaar Act unconstitutional.

The Majority Judgement

The 4:1 majority concluded that Aadhaar holds up to the provisions of the constitution. And made the following conclusions on the broader arguments of the case.

The court found that the collection of demographic information and biometric data does not violate the fundamental right of privacy as the provisions of the Act pass the three-fold test laid down in the Puttaswamy case.

Section 7 of the Act which makes Aadhaar mandatory to access welfare benefits was also upheld. Justice Chandrachud, in his judgement, vehemently opposed this saying “errors in biometrics matching imply that an individual will not be considered a part of the biometrics database. If a benefit or service is subject to the matching of biometrics, then any mismatch would result in a denial of that benefit or service. Exclusion based on technological errors, with no fault of the individual, is a violation of dignity. The fate of individuals cannot be left to the vulnerabilities of technological algorithms or devices. ”

On the question of Aadhaar being used as a surveillance tool, the court concluded that the “Aadhaar Act does not create an architecture of pervasive surveillance”.

Justice Sikri had noted in his judgement that there is minimal data collected by the government which doesn’t allow authorities to do any sort of profiling.

In response to claims that Aadhaar data is unsecured, Justice Sikri pronounced that the enrollment process is foolproof and therefore doesn’t allow for duplication of Aadhaar.

The judgement, however, struck down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act stating that authenticated data cannot be stored for more than 6 months. The current rule stated that metadata can be archived for 5 years.

As several sections of the Aadhaar Act have been struck down, let’s take a look some of the important points:

a. the national security exception for the disclosure of Aaadhar information as per Section 33(2) has been struck down

b. Section 57 permitting private entities to avail Aadhaar data was struck down. This means that banks, schools, and telecom service providers cannot insist on Aadhaar

c. Aadhaar isn’t mandatory for getting a new SIM card

d. rights cannot be denied due to the lack of Aadhaar

e. CBSE, NEET, UGC cannot make Aadhaar mandatory

f. no child can be denied any schemes because of Aadhaar

g. Aadhaar is mandatory to file income tax returns

h. Aadhaar can be passed as a Money Bill

The government welcomed the verdict with Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad saying “it is a victory of good governance.”

The Unique Identification Authority of India, the body that issues Aadhaar numbers, issued a statement welcoming the judgement and said the verdict accepts that “there is a legitimate state aim in Aadhaar”.

The Case Against Aadhaar

A five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra had reserved its verdict in May on a clutch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Aadhaar.

The hearing, which began in January, lasted 38 days and is the second longest hearing in Supreme Court’s history and on the back of earlier Supreme Court ruling which declared the right to privacy a fundamental right.

Starting from the first petition filed in 2012 by retired justice K Puttaswamy, a former judge in the Karnataka high court, the government has had to defend the 30 challenges against Aadhaar.

The validity of Aadhaar had been challenged on several grounds but overall the court had to decide:

a. whether the state can make it mandatory for people to share their biometrics and if that is a violation of their privacy

b. if Aadhaar can be made mandatory for not just welfare schemes but also for non-welfare government services

c. if a state can and should be allowed to exclude those who don’t have an Aadhaar from receiving welfare

d. whether the collection of biometrics coupled with the all-pervasive nature of the Aadhaar system creates a surveillance state

e. whether the data collected is secure in terms of data protection laws and security systems

The government has consistently denied all reports of data breaches and leaks and allegations of biometrics and data being used as a surveillance tool.

~ENDS~

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