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Centre will focus on ring fencing Aadhaar

By Subhomoy Bhattacharjee
August 30, 2017 13:58 IST
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The government would have to assure the Supreme Court that collection of biometric data under Aadhaar does not violate privacy.
Subhomoy Bhattacharjee reports.

After a landmark Supreme Court judgment made privacy a Fundamental Right, senior government officers are saying that there was clearly a need to ring fence the Aadhaar programme.

An officer connected with the developments said the government would have to assure the Supreme Court that collection of biometric data under Aadhaar, a 12-digit unique identification number, does not violate privacy.


The government would also have to demonstrate that there were enough safeguards in place to ensure misuse of the data does not happen. Only then would the argument become valid.

The officer made it clear that the Aadhaar roll-out would not be clipped by the government.

According to the official, these safeguards would have to come in even before the roll-out of a proposed Bill on privacy, being drafted by the ministry of electronics and information technology.

"A Bill will be introduced in Parliament from where it will travel to the standing committees with amendments suggested. It will not be less than a year before the process is over," the official said.

The earliest possible date for the Bill to reach Parliament is November, when the next session begins.

The choice in this circumstances will then be either to halt Aadhaar-based identification for government schemes till the process is completed or import some of those safeguards into the already running government programmes, especially those meant as alternatives to subsidies in the form of direct benefits transfer.

The officer said while an ordinance to bring the Bill into effect was always a possibility, the government might not take this route.

It would, instead, prefer to take all interest groups along to ensure there were no troubles.

"There are difficulties," he conceded.

Even though the Aadhaar protocol is used only to identify a person by a number or biometric data fed in, there are some peculiarities with each programme. So it might be difficult to work out a common set of safeguards.

The officer said there was time to work these issues out till the smaller Benches in the Supreme Court begin fresh hearing in other privacy-related cases.

A nine-judge Constitutional Bench's verdict affirming privacy as a Fundamental Right grew out of the use of Aadhaar by the Union and state governments for the delivery of welfare schemes.

The judgment is also expected to impact private entities such as Google and Facebook collect an individual's personal data.

The judgment is also likely to open the floodgates to fresh petitions on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises homosexuality.

For the government the key issue is that a three-judge bench is hearing a clutch of petitions related to the use of Aadhaar -- including alleged contempt by the Union and state governments for violating the court's ruling on not making Aadhaar mandatory for government schemes -- and the legal tenability of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016.

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Subhomoy Bhattacharjee
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