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Supreme Court seeks Govt’s views on the legality of Aadhaar

Supreme Court seeks Govt’s views on the legality of Aadhaar – Petition filed on the ground that it violated personal liberties and privacy.

The Supreme Court on Monday sought the government’s views on the unique identification or Aadhaar programme that was started by its predecessor as a fresh petition sought to question its legality on the ground that it violated personal liberties and privacy.

A two-judge bench, comprising chief justice of India HL Dattu and justice AK Sikri, asked solicitor general Ranjit Kumar to revert to the top court in two weeks with the information but stopped short of issuing any formal legal notices to the government.

“We read news reports which said the new government was doing a rethink on the issue,” Dattu observed.

The petition, filed by Bangalore-resident Mathew Thomas, a former army officer and defence missile scientist turned social activist, had accused the new government of “slyly” pushing ahead with Aadhaar. He said the government had insisted on linking bank accounts with Aadhaar for direct transfer of the LPG subsidy and it was also being used to ensure attendance by officials. He urged the court to immediately stop this.

“Our democratic constitution does not permit such state surveillance. UID is the first step towards profiling, tracking and stereotyping. Mere production of ID cards by people, upon demand by police, would neither absolve such persons from suspicion, nor would it prevent them from indulging in criminal activities,” his plea said.

Arguing for Thomas, senior advocate Gopal Subramanium contended that almost all countries such as the UK and US have scrapped such attempts following a public uproar over their intrusive nature. Aadhaar is being rolled out by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), a non-statutory body. It involves collecting biometric information of all citizens and in return issuing them unique ID or Aadhaar numbers that facilitate the accurate targeting of social security and in-service benefits. Several activists had approached the top court seeking a stay.

The court had clarified that Aadhaar should not be insisted upon while dispensing social security benefits.

The court is, however, yet to take a final call on its fate. The fresh PIL, filed through lawyer Aishwarya Bhatti, called upon the court to direct the Centre to destroy all biometric information collected so far.

Collection of data was being undertaken by agencies with suspect credentials and cards had been issued even to illegal migrants, the PIL claimed.

The UIDAI couldn’t be set up through mere approval of the “empowered group of ministers”, it said. All acts that curtail the rights and liberties of an individual are to be necessarily backed by law, it said. The National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010, was introduced in the Lok Sabha and is still pending. However, in the interim, the authority has been collecting personal information of all citizens, including army officers and government servants.

Thomas said he had sought information about UIDAI-approved scanners that were used to collect biometric data but was denied this. A Right to Information (RTI) query led to the answer that there was “no way of verifying the country of origin of the companies”, he said.

In the meantime, Maharashtra has made Aadhaar mandatory to pay bills. Other states use it to record attendance in offices. Delhi has made Aadhaar necessary for solemnisation and registration of marriages and the direct transfer of LPG subsidies.

There is no provision for residents to opt out of the UID project and information once given cannot be destroyed, he said. The former army officer said that possibility of “illegal residents” wrongly being issued Aadhaar cards and carrying out espionage activities could not be ruled out. The scheme would have limited use in checking illegal migration or terrorism, he said.

The information collected under the UID scheme is valuable to criminals and this makes citizens vulnerable as well, he said. There are almost no checks and balances in sharing of private information, the petitioner said.

source: Economic Times