Aadhaar a giant electronic leash, will hollow out Constitution: Petitioner to Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has started hearing the crucial cases related to the constitutional validity of Aadhaar. A five-judge bench, comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud, and Ashok Bhushan heard the arguments of the petitioner, maintaining that the government's mandatory biometric identification project is, in essence, seeking to change a people's Constitution into State's Constitution.

The petitioner raised several objections on the scale of the project, its intent, and the actual legality of enabling such an architecture which could threaten the citizens with the possibility of State surveillance. "The core issue is that the design (of Aadhaar) itself is bad. It enables State domination," the petitioner's lawyer told the court.

 Aadhaar a giant electronic leash, will hollow out Constitution: Petitioner to Supreme Court

Representational image. News18

Here are the key takeaways from Day 1 of the hearing and the key arguments made by the petitioners.

- The petitioners made submissions ranging from the Standing Committee's observations, to the precedents as adopted by other nations to pointing out basic moral and administrative defects in amassing biometric data of citizens on such a large scale, perhaps trying to patiently drive the point that the Aadhaar project can never be safely assumed to be leakproof, hence safe, ergo, legal.

- Shyam Dave the petitioner's lawyer in the case argued that Aadhaar was like a giant electronic leash tethered to a citizen. He argued that a digital identity that is cross-linked to every other salient service a citizen utilizes, puts at risk his civil liberties. State surveillance and profiling, in the absence of a data protection law, is not unimaginable, nor impossible, he argued.

- Justice Chandrachud asked that why the state cannot argue that a biometric identification was needed to plug leakages in social welfare schemes so that the benefit or allowance reaches to the person designated for it. To this, the petitioner's lawyer sought some time to articulate a detailed response, even as he said that the Aadhaar related expenses override any savings made in the process of sealing leakages.

- The petitioner also argued that Aadhaar could lead to millions of people being denied access to essential services and benefits in violation of their human rights, as he pointed out that biometric details of almost 6.2 crore people have been rejected, mainly due to calloused hands and fingertips, wherein biometric data could not be recorded.

"These are not dishonest people or ghosts," he said. Even the Standing Committee report on Aadhaar points out: "..it has been proven again and again that in the Indian environment, the failure to enrol with fingerprints is as high as 15 percent due to the prevalence of a huge population dependent on manual labour. These are essentially the poor and marginalised sections of the society. So, while the poor do indeed need identity proofs, Aadhaar is not the right way to do that"

- Dave also raised an objection on the government insisting on expanding the Aadhaar scheme to newborns and children, saying that young kids are not old enough to understand the ramifications of such a scheme and give consent to a 'voluntary scheme'.

The Aadhaar project is run by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) which collects personal and biometric data such as fingerprints, facial photographs, and iris scans, and issues 12-digit individualized identity numbers. Aadhaar was initially meant to be voluntary, aimed at eliminating fraud in government welfare programs and giving people a form of identification.

However, the Aadhaar Act of 2016 and subsequent notifications and licensing agreements increased the scope of the project, making Aadhaar enrolment mandatory for people to access a range of essential services and benefits including government subsidies, pensions and scholarships. It has also been linked to services such as banking, insurance, telephone, and the Internet.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Jan 18, 2018 07:35:25 IST