With the recent verdict by Supreme court, it seems like it is not only going to safeguard the right to privacy but also retaliate on any violation in policy. Whereas Digital systems like the Aadhaar have virtually eliminated simple privacy that many people take for granted in daily life. Following which the Supreme Court will now judge the Aadhaar card’s validity and how it may be acting as a tool to breach privacy.
A Supreme Court bench of nine judges unanimously proclaimed on August 24, 2017 that an individual’s privacy is a fundamental right. The ruling said that privacy is an inherent part of life, personal liberty and speech. The judges concluded, “The right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution”. The Supreme Court order came after a set of petitions challenged the mandatory use of the Aadhaar card and linking every citizen’s confidential information to its database.
The judgment has brought Aadhaar onto the center stage. Although the verdict did not probe on whether the government’s demand for Aadhaar to be linked with all financial transactions indicates to infringement of privacy but the verdict has already resulted in questioning the validity of Aadhaar.
Originally, Aadhaar was presented as an entirely voluntary programme which offered to provide every Indian with an identity card. Initially, the government raised the issue that welfare schemes such as PDS system or other subsidy systems were not reaching out to the original beneficiary due to loopholes or leakage in the system. So the government claimed that Aadhaar will help establish true identity of Indian citizens so they can avail the services hassle free.
However, with the government collecting so much personal data and details, questions were raised that is it that well equipped to store the data at such large scale? What if the private data leaks? In spite of all the questions and complications, later on, the government started pushing for the use of the controversial 12 digit biometric identification project and mandating it in everything important from linking it with bank accounts to tax declarations and much more. Ultimately, the government made its use essential for benefitting services like pensions and cash transfers for those entitled to welfare schemes.
“The Right to Privacy needs an appropriate balance between confidentiality of financial and personal information. For finance, e-commerce, online banking, digital loan processing and registrations with Government departments, the need for validation and verification of data is key to mitigate fraud, identity theft, and other misuses. A balanced mechanism between what is open source information and what is restricted access personal data and who and how it can be accessed will go a long way to resolve concerns.” said Deepak Bhawnani, CEO of Alea Consulting.
Risk To Privacy With Aadhaar
Critics have opposed the government’s move by raising questions on data breach risks and calling it an invasive step to misuse the confidential and private information of its citizens. But the project has already collected biometric finger prints, iris scan and other personal information of more than 80% citizens. It is feared that data can be misused by a government which suggests that Indian citizens have no right to privacy. Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) has persistently said that its data is secure, however, repeated reports of Aadhaar details being accidentally leaked on government websites and reaching the public domain is a valid and substantial proof of the threats it can inflict.
Ramesh Mamgain, Area Vice President, India & SAARC region, Commvault India says, “It is likely to have a deep impact on the existing data management ecosystem in the country and usher in an era of ‘data intimacy’. Several industries that deal with a large quantum of sensitive personal data including telecom, financial services, healthcare services, smart cities as also government agencies will have to review their data strategy in the context of this historic order.”
Earlier the Supreme Court had already stated that Aadaar card is not mandatory but only optional. However, currently citizens are facing with the dilemma of linking all the documents with Aadhaar and trying to keep the information safe at the behest of the government. The citizens are not aware that if the government wants, it can cancel the Aadhaar of any card holder, after which the person can no longer use his PAN number, income tax details and his bank account will be seized among many other things with something which is not even mandatory according to the Supreme Court.
On the contrary, the government has welcomed the verdict and its acceptance with the same is hugely a supporting move. This move and citizen’s dilemma calls for a much needed reaction and quick fix by the government. “We have full confidence that matters of security will be dealt with appropriately by the Union Government keeping a careful and sensitive balance between individual interests and legitimate concerns of the State. National security, network resilience, consumer interests and privacy are also of utmost priority to the industry” says Rajan S Mathews, DG, COAI
The Government’s Change of Statements
On the other hand, Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad insisted that the government had not lost its case and the court has rather affirmed the government’s position that right to privacy is a fundamental right but is not absolute and is subject to reasonable restrictions. Which is very contradictory to what his views were before coming into power, “What is the security and integrity of the data collected by UIDAI? As much as I am aware of, anybody can come up with a fake address and call himself a citizen of India and get registered for Aadhaar without facing any issue. Also, is the security getting audit of the data collected? This is a very grave issue and we would like to get some clarification by the government on this issue. This Unique Identification process should be come to a halt till the issues are resolved.” Even PM Narendra Modi, when he was not the Prime Minister of India, had entirely different views on Aadhaar card’s validity unlike now.
It is no doubt that personal space is no longer felt protected once we enter the digital network. The right to individuality, privacy and personal autonomy becomes debatable in the digital age. This makes one ponder over the thought that has the development and use of technology impacted us in such a manner that it has robbed us of our right to privacy? The Law and IT Minister may state that Aadhaar contains only name, gender, address and biometric identity of the citizens but is that not more than enough to encroach a person’s privacy? The ambivalence we sometimes feel about new technologies that they are a positive growth driver as well as the fact that they reveal identifiable personal information balances threats to privacy.
The Wait May Be Worth It
The landmark verdict of the Supreme Court clarified that privacy is a constitutional right, equal to having the right to live or breath freely. The verdict on right to privacy is a major setback for the government. To better understand the matter and clarify the numerous confusions that Aadhaar presents, a small Supreme Court bench is going to be set up which will throw the spotlight on Aadhaar. It will be focusing on how privacy can be jeopardized as long as projects like Aadhaar exist, having personal details and information like iris scan and biometric data. Till then, nothing can be said for Aadhaar’s validity as of now. The moral and legal question of privacy in the digital times seeks special attention to technological progress which withholds the right to privacy in many ways. The influence of the use of technology in the processing of personal and private information should be dealt with.