UNIQUE IDENTITY AND USING INFORMATION TO DENY, ANNOY AND INTIMIDATE (UIDAI) By Ajikrishnan S. from CSI College for Legal Studies
Will Aadhaar abort the right to privacy is sounding not infrequent nowadays. Both print and electronic media are abounding with arguments for and against this notion. Political parties began to unleash accusations and allegations. The controversy has now dropped to the judges’ lap either to reject or to recognize the existence of the right to privacy to citizens of India, as well as whether Aadhaar is a fatal accident to bury alive fundamental constitutional liberties.[i]
Quite obviously, the issue of privacy has overshadowed the potential or possible benefits that it brings out, or intends to do so, through this scheme. Also, it is diminishing, if not depriving the scope for looking into other sides of the scheme, including whether it has had any alternatives, which the government has left unconsidered. However, the raison d’etre behind the domination of the issue of right to privacy lies in its inextricable bond with right to life that without the former the latter is incomplete.
The proposal for the unique ID scheme was conceived by the Planning Commission and first emerged in 2006 when the administrative approval for the project –Unique ID for Below Poverty Line families was given.[ii] This ultimately took the shape of Aadhar and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), an agency constituted under the Aadhar Act, and vested with prescribed authority for administration of the scheme.[iii]
It has to be noted that the said Act was passed only later for a scheme like this which speaks itself of want of systematic planning.[iv] The Act indeed provides for an array of provisions to secure the data collected for Aadhar by state and private agencies. But whether those provisions are effective in safeguarding the data and thereby privacy of citizens is a debatable one, and difficult to be answered positively when compared to global data protection standards save by official spokespersons of the party done so. It needs to be discussed and deliberated.
Although the unique ID was first stated to be voluntary, the government later came up with notifications making it mandatory for having bank accounts, SIM cards, PAN etc.[v] That is, even if one does not wish to be a part of this scheme since the government stated it to be voluntary s/he has to do it at the expense of many services enjoyed by him. In essence, enforcing an otherwise unenforceable scheme and doing indirectly something which the government promised not to do directly. This forces one to disclose his personal and sensitive information to state against his will and surrendering his right to privacy to state for enjoyment of private and state services. This is a manifest encroachment upon the values of democracy.
Coming to the issue of right to privacy, with the latest landmark judgment of the Supreme Court, right to privacy is now a fundamental right enshrined in Article 21 of Constitution of India. The nine judge-bench very clearly stated that no law or policy can take away the right to privacy and it can only be curtailed with reasonable restrictions like security.
Thus, the question of privacy should be in the context of the potential ends which Aadhar seeks to achieve, in particular, the attempt to provide a foolproof identity to a billion people. This enables the state to target the beneficiary by removing duplicate identities. It also helps to directly transfer benefits to beneficiary. This single view of having beneficiary data, which it is said, that cannot be duplicated has many advantages, which will, it is hoped for, increase with ever increasing technological developments.
It is submitted that to take the stance that citizens of this country has no right to privacy banking on hyper technical arguments will not hold water. It will be an embarrassing argument for the government to say because of technological advancements there is no right to privacy. It is like saying because of the increased terrorist activities there is no right to life. It will not be desirable or proper for the government to move forward without allaying the concerns of its citizenry about collection of personal data including biometric information. It is the duty of the elected to their electorate. Above all, the state has to inform people that the data will not be used without their consent, it is used only for purposes stated therein and the data is secure with the government. Unrealistic arguments and words unsupported by action would go directly against public interest and even overshadow its benefits as submitted above. Hence what is expected from the state at this juncture is not to recuse itself from its liability to protect the privacy of citizens. In fact, the state could have attempted not to leave unattended genuine allegations raised against the scheme. A democracy has to function by letting people know and demonstrate rather than by denial and coercion since the latter works soon but disappears sooner.
[iii]The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, Chapter IV.
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