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Aadhaar seeding with SIM cards: deleting biometric data is difficult

The Supreme Court has declared that seeding of Aadhaar with mobile phone SIM cards was unconstitutional. File

The Supreme Court has declared that seeding of Aadhaar with mobile phone SIM cards was unconstitutional. File   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Though the majority opinion is silent, Justice J. Chandrachud’s direction to mobile companies to delete biometric data will open a Pandora’s box.

The Constitution Bench on Wednesday was unanimous in declaring that seeding of Aadhaar with mobile phone SIM cards was unconstitutional.

However, even as the majority judgment written by Justice A.K. Sikri restricts itself to a paragraph on the issue of Aadhaar-SIM linkage, the dissenting judge on the Bench, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud goes a step ahead to say that whatever data collected so far by service providers should be deleted forthwith.

Justice Chandrachud’s direction may open a Pandora’s Box for future litigation, experts say.

Justice Sikri, writing for himself, Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, was silent on the status of personal data collected by service providers so far even as the SC was deciding the very validity of the Aadhaar scheme.

The bone of contention is the circular issued by the Department of Telecommunications on March 23, 2017, mandating the linking of mobile numbers with Aadhaar. The petitioners pointed out that the circular was illegal and unconstitutional.

“Circular dated March 23, 2017 mandating linking of mobile number with Aadhaar is held to be illegal and unconstitutional as it is not backed by any law and is hereby quashed,” Justice Sikri held.

But Justice Chandrachud pointed out that the “conflation of biometric information with SIM cards poses grave threats to individual privacy, liberty and autonomy”.

Referring to the nine-judge Bench decision upholding privacy as a fundamental right, Justice Chandrachud also held that the government’s decision to to link Aadhaar numbers with mobile SIM cards is “neither valid nor constitutional”.

He held that the “mere existence of a legitimate state aim will not justify the disproportionate means which have been adopted in the present case”.

Then comes the bombshell. Justice Chandrachud directs the telecom service providers to forthwith delete the biometric information and Aadhaar details collected by them.

“No use of the said information or details shall be made by TSPs or any agency or person or their behalf,” Justice Chandrachud ordered.

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2020 2:16:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/aadhaar-seeding-with-sim-cards-to-delete-or-not/article25051250.ece

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