Aadhaar, data leaks and right to privacy

No invasion of body for UID: Centre

An Aadhaar biometric identity card, issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India.

An Aadhaar biometric identity card, issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India.

Taking fingerprints and iris impressions for Aadhaar is not an invasion of a citizen’s body as the right of a person to his own body is not absolute, the government told the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi illustrated the might of the State by referring to its power to take the life of a person, forcing a Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan to intervene and point out that a State can extinguish a person’s life only after following due process of law.

“The State has the duty to maintain the liberty of an individual. The State has, more importantly, the obligation to maintain the dignity of an individual. Dignity is an individual right,” Justice Sikri addressed the Attorney-General.

Submission to laws

Mr. Rohatgi defended the legality of a newly-included Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act making Aadhaar mandatory for filing income tax returns and PAN, saying if one has to live in a collective called the ‘State’, one has to submit to its laws.

The AG was replying to arguments made earlier by senior advocate Shyam Divan that the State does not have the right to force a citizen to part with biometric details without free, informed and voluntary consent.

 

“Can you say I have a right to abuse my body because it is my body and I will pick up weed from the road and smoke it? People take all kinds of photos. We take fingerprints even before exercising our fundamental rights to travel abroad. We part with all kinds of data through our mobile phones. We part with our biometrics even before flying abroad. How is an iris scan more intrusive than photos? The argument of so-called privacy and bodily integrity is bogus,” Mr. Rohatgi responded.

“We are not against State regulations, but these regulations should not infringe upon the citizens’ fundamental rights,” Justice Sikri countered.

Mr. Rohatgi said the criticism against the biometric system of identification used in Aadhaar enrolment was based on the “myopic viewpoint of the rich who do not anyway use the public distribution system”.

 

“These are people who say they have a right to be forgotten. But the State cannot forget you. There are a large number of people out there who want to be remembered and included in the welfare schemes of the State. They want to get an Aadhaar and say that they are no less than the man who goes around in a Mercedes. Aadhaar ensures empowerment by giving them an identity,” Mr. Rohatgi submitted.

He said that the 113.7 crore Aadhaar cards produced so far is proof that people are eager to enroll. He said even in PAN, though 29 crore PAN cards were produced, there were only five crore assessees. The rest 24 crore PAN card holders had taken PAN to use it as a unique identity proof.

He said duplication of Aadhaar is “non-existent” unlike in PAN. “Despite the petitioner’s argument that Aadhaar cards were made with photographs of Hanumanji, etc, these are not cases of duplication and cheating as seen in PAN. Must have been some unintended mistake,” Mr. Rohatgi submitted.

Countering arguments made that fingerprint and iris impressions would be used to mount a State surveillance and the “nation would turn into a large concentration camp”, Mr. Rohatgi submitted that the mandatory linkage of PAN with Aadhaar was a step towards a “more orderly world”.

“It is to ensure that tax money goes to serve the poor and will create a better world. Not because Uncle Sam wants to snoop on you,” he said. The AG added that there was nothing wrong in the State collecting fingerprints to help prevent or to aid solving a crime. “But is it allright to treat everyone as a suspect?” Justice Siri asked.

Mr. Rohatgi said the government had conceptualised including biometric identification in PANs way back in 2009. “We had in mind something like a PAN Plus, but entrepreneur Nandan Nilekani introduced Aadhaar,” Mr. Rohatgi submitted.

He said the PAN was also included in 1975 in the Income Tax Act under Section 139A as a unique identification proof. Mr. Rohatgi submitted that PAN became a leaky system as time passed and drug and balck money laundering came to fore.

“We found that the mischief a person can do with duplication or faking one PAN will be in thousands of crores. Money is laundered through shell companies using multiple PANs. PAN has become more and more suspect. We cancelled at least 10 lakh PANs through random verifications done. We need a robust system. Aaddhaar started as a food security proof, but we found there were other advantages to it (Aadhaar),” Mr. Rohatgi said

He said Section 139AA is nothing but a repetition of PAN in the more complicated milieu of today.

“The only difference is one of single ‘A’ and double ‘A’,” Mr. Rohatgi said.


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Printable version | May 23, 2022 7:44:56 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/aadhaar-mandatory-to-avoid-fake-pan-cards-govt-tells-sc/article18352695.ece