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Aadhaar scheme: Supreme Court to pronounce verdict on its validity on Sept. 26

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The challenge against Aadhaar had begun even before the Aadhaar law came into existence in 2016.

A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, is scheduled to pronounce on Wednesday its much-awaited judgment on whether the Aadhaar scheme is unconstitutional and a violation of the fundamental right to privacy and personal body autonomy.

The five-judge Bench, also comprising Justices A.K. Sikri, A.M. Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan reserved their judgment in May last, thus ending over seven years of various challenges against Aadhaar before various apex court Benches.

The Constitution Bench is scheduled to give three opinions by Justices Sikri, Chandrachud and Bhushan.

The challenge against Aadhaar had begun even before the Aadhaar law came into existence in 2016.

In hearings that spanned over four months, the government and the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) time and again stressed before the Constitution Bench that Aadhaar has covered 99% of the population and is voluntarily accepted as a unique identifier by the masses.

An Aadhaar card gives the poor the dignity of an identity, the government argued.

On the other hand, 27 different petitions argued that Aadhaar is an electronic leash that leads the gullible citizen towards a totalitarian State. The aggregation of personal data of citizens in a central base is prone to leakage. The record of personal data of every citizen would enable the State in future to profile citizens, track their movements, assess their habits and silently influence their behaviour.

Over time, the profiling enables the State to stifle dissent and influence political decision-making, senior advocate Shyam Divan argued for the petitioners.

The historic judgment of August 2017, which upheld privacy as a fundamental right, is an off-shoot of the Aadhaar litigation. Whether the nine-judge Bench judgment would rub off on the Aadhaar verdict on Wednesday is to be seen.

Informed consent

The 27 petitions are a comprehensive challenge against Aadhaar, including the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act of 2016, which was introduced as a Money Bill.

Also read | Is the Aadhaar Bill a Money Bill?

The petitions have contended that most people were enrolled into Aadhaar between 2009 and 2016, that is, before the Act came into existence. If so, were the consent of those enrolled an informed one?

The petitions have raised the fact that most of the Aadhaar enrollment agencies were private ones. They collected highly-sensitive personal data from lakhs of citizens without any audit. Quite a few were blacklisted by the UIDAI.

The petitions also raised a question about the 139 notifications issued by various government departments under Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act. These notifications, they alleged, made Aadhaar linkage a mandatory condition to access social welfare scheme and benefits.

The petitions also highlighted the government’s push to link Aadhaar numbers with SIM cards, bank accounts and PANs. The implementation of these have been indefinitely postponed till the court’s final judgment.

The petitioners had argued that a person’s very existence should not hinge on just one source. A person may suffer “civil death”. The right to choose, whether or not to enroll for Aadhaar, is a fundamental right, they argued.

Also read | The long list of Aadhaar-linked schemes

Data breach

Justice Chandrachud had once pointed out how the “1.3 billion Indians may be poor, but we are a goldmine of commercial information”.

The government and the UIDAI have asserted that Aadhaar is not a “fly-by-night effort to score some brownie points” and personal data collected from millions of people was safe from breach.

It would take hackers “more than the age of the universe for the fastest computer on earth, or any super computer, to break one key” of Aadhaar encryption, Ajay Bhushan Pandey, UIDAI CEO had assured the Supreme Court in a PowerPoint presentation conducted in the courtroom.

Mr. Pandey submitted that UIDAI does not “collect emotions, likes/dislikes or pull out data” and that it has no aggregate record of the prupose, location or details of data of Aadhaar holders.

The government and the UIDAI said “legitimate State interest” to fight against bogus identities and “larger public interest” were one and the same.

The UIDAI asked the Supreme Court to not fall for the “hyperphobia” of the petitioners.

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 1:25:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/aadhaar-verdict-sc-to-pronounce-verdict-on-its-validity-on-sept-26/article25039815.ece

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