Facing the question of whether making a citizen part with vital personal data under the Aadhaar scheme does not amount to intrusion of privacy, the Centre replied in the Supreme Court on Wednesday that privacy was not a Fundamental Right.
Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi said the right to privacy had been a “vague” concept all these years, a subject of varying conclusions from the Supreme Court. He told a three-judge Bench, led by Justice J. Chelameswar, that the Constitution-makers had never intended to make it a Fundamental Right.
Mr. Rohatgi quoted a majority 1962 judgment of the Supreme Court in the Kharak Singh case that held that privacy was not a “guaranteed right” under the Constitution.
The submissions came during the hearing of a batch of petitions seeking to stop the implementation of the scheme. The government said it was too late to do that as Rs. 5,000 crore had been spent on Aadhaar, which had accessed 80 crore people.
Iris scans, fingerprinting and so on for registering for Aadhaar are an invasion of privacy, said a petitioner.
Counsel for the petitioner Shyam Divan said such personal information would help the State possess unbridled powers over its citizens and provide an easy opportunity to snoop on their private lives.
“Nowhere in the Aadhaar scheme is the word ‘biometrics’ used; yet there are iris scans being done in the camps. Even the enrolment form does not use the word ‘bio-metrics’. So, now there is a huge collection of citizens’ personal data ... there is something wrong here... egregiously wrong,” Mr. Divan submitted.
He said it was a “little late in the day for the Union of India and the Attorney-General to say that right to privacy is not a fundamental right”.
He pointed to several decisions of the Supreme Court subsequent to the Kharak Singh case, including the Maneka Gandhi case, in which the court gave a very wide ambit to the right of personal liberty.
“Privacy is at the core of our vital needs. Privacy leads to fulfilment of our goals, enrichment of ourselves and our growth. The need for privacy distinguishes humans from other animals. It is a fundamental right,” Mr. Divan said even as Justice Chelameswar suggested that since there was a “divergence of opinion” the matter may be referred to a larger bench.
On a September 23, 2013 order, the court had directed that “no person should suffer for not getting the Aadhaar card.”
In March this year, the Supreme Court had confirmed that the Aadhaar number was not compulsory, and further, officials who insisted on them would be taken to task.
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