Aadhar and Dillemma with Respect to Privacy IAS Target

Aadhar and Dillemma with Respect to Privacy

29 Jul 2020

Category : National Issue

Topic: Aadhar and Dillemma with Respect to Privacy

Aadhaar is a 12-digit unique identity number that can be obtained voluntarily by residents of India, based on their biometric and demographic data. The data is collected by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), a statutory authority established in January 2009 by the government of India, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, following the provisions of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, benefits and services) Act, 2016. Prior to the enactment of the Act, the UIDAI had functioned, since 28 January 2009, as an attached office of the Planning Commission (now NITI Aayog). On 3 March 2016 a money bill was introduced in the Parliament to give legislative backing to Aadhaar. On 11 March 2016 the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, benefits and services) Act, 2016, was passed in the Lok Sabha.
Aadhaar is the subject of several rulings by the Supreme Court of India. On 23 September 2013 the Supreme Court issued an interim order saying that "no erson should suffer for not getting Aadhaar", adding that the government cannot deny a service to a resident who does not possess Aadhaar, as it is voluntary and not mandatory. The court also limited the scope of the program and reaffirmed the voluntary nature of the identity number in other rulings. On 24 August 2017 the Indian Supreme Court delivered a landmark verdict affirming the right to privacy as a fundamental right, overruling previous judgments on the issue. A five-judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court heard various cases relating to the validity of Aadhaar on various grounds including privacy, surveillance, and exclusion from welfare benefits. On 9 January 2017 the five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court of India reserved its judgement on the interim relief sought by petitions to extend the deadline making Aadhaar mandatory for everything from bank accounts to mobile services. The final hearing began on 17 January 2018. In September 2018, the top court upheld the validity of the Aadhaar system. In the September 2018 judgment, the Supreme Court nevertheless stipulated that the Aadhaar card is not mandatory for opening bank accounts, getting a mobile number, or being admitted to a school. Some civil liberty groups such as the Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties and the Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF) have also opposed the project over privacy concerns.
Despite the validity of Aadhaar being challenged in the court, the central government has pushed citizens to link their Aadhaar numbers with a host of services, including mobile sim cards, bank accounts, the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation, and a large number of welfare schemes including but not limited to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Public Distribution System, and old age pensions. Recent reports suggest that HIV patients have been forced to discontinue treatment for fear of identity breach as access to the treatment has become contingent on producing Aadhaar.

Aadhar is Complusory

Any individual, irrespective of age and gender, who is a resident of India, may voluntarily enrol to obtain Aadhaar number. It is not compulsory to enrol for Aadhar. Aadhar was primarily introduced for direct transfer of subsidies into citizens bank account. But now the government has widened the scope of Aadhar. Now, there are many compulsions to link Aadhar to Bank Account, link Aadhar to Mobile Number, link Aadhar to PAN etc.

Is Aadhar an Identity Proof or Address Proof or Both?

Aadhaar card is issued after recording and verifying every Indian citizen’s details including biometric and demographic data. Aadhaar is the world's largest biometric ID system. World Bank Chief Economist Paul Romer described Aadhaar as "the most sophisticated ID programme in the world". Considered a proof of residence and not a proof of citizenship, Aadhaar does not itself grant any rights to domicile in India. In June 2017, the Home Ministry clarified that Aadhaar is not a valid identification document for Indians travelling to Nepal and Bhutan.

Only Aadhar and not requirement of any other documents?

Aadhaar may become the only card in future, replacing all types of other identity cards like voter ID card, PAN card etc. critics concern on so many ID cards despite Aadhaar’s introduction. On why Aadhaar being made mandatory for I-T returns, many persons have been found with multiple PAN cards and that’s why the government felt the need to introduce single id to prevent misuses of multiple PAN cards. Aadhar number is unique and robust enough to eliminate a large number of duplicate and fake identities in government and private databases. An individual needs to enrol for Aadhaar only once and after de-duplication, only one Aadhaar shall be generated, as the uniqueness is achieved through the process of demographic and biometric de-duplication.

Benefits of Aadhaar Card

Aadhaar based Direct Benefit Transfer (LPG Subsidy) The 12 digit individual identification number on Aadhar card is used to get LPG subsidy amount directly in the bank account. This DBTL scheme is named as PAHAL. To get this benefit you need to visit your area’s distributor and get Aadhar number linked to the 17 digit LPG consumer number. Although now you can get direct benefit transfer by linking bank account to the LPG number.
Jan Dhan Yojana The guiness world record holder scheme Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) accepts Aadhaar card/number as the only document sufficient to open the bank account. Although you open PMJDY account after producing other documents as well. The benefits offered are RuPay card, free zero balance savings account, life and accident insurance and many others.
Passport in 10 days This benefit of Aadhaar card will relieve you the most! If you have an Aadhaar card, you can get passport in just 10 days. Under this format, police verification will be done at a later date as opposed to the previous rule requiring police verification which used to be time consuming. Also under the new government’s rule, if you need a passport, Aadhaar number is compulsory.
Digital Locker Government of India has launched digital locker (DigiLocker) system for everyone for storing all personal document on the government’s server. And sign-up process for DigiLocker requires person to link his/her 12 digit Aadhaar card number.
Voter Card Linking Starting 9th March 2015, Aadhaar card UIDAI number would be linked to the voter ID’s. This action is taken to eliminate bogus voters. Once an Aadhaar number is linked, it would become impossible for an multiple voter ID card holder to make it’s illegal use, as registration requires voter card holder to be physically present and produce Aadhaar card to the polling booth officer for linking.
Monthly Pension All the pensioners from select states will now have to register their Aadhaar card number to their respective department in order to receive monthly pension. This move was initiated as there have been fraudulent incidents as beneficiaries requesting pension were found to be fake.
Provident Fund Similar to pension, provident fund money will be given to the account holder who’ve registered their Aadhaar number with employee provident fund organization (EPFO).
Opening new bank account Aadhaar letter provided by UIDAI is now acceptable by banks as a valid proof to open bank account. In fact, it can serve as an address proof as well provided address on Aadhaar card and address proof perfectly matches. i.e. no need to produce bunch of documents to the banks for opening the account.
Digital Life Certificate Aadhaar linked digital life certificate is another initiative which was launched by Department of Electronics and IT. Named as “Jeevan Praman for Pensioners”, this system will end the process where pensioner had to be physically present at Pension Disbursing Agency to avail pension. Instead all the details of pensioner will be accessed digitally by the agency.
SEBI It is now accepted as a proof of address by Securities and Exchange board of India for investing in stock market. Till now, it was used by SEBI as identity proof.
JAM trinity Jan DhanYojana, Aadhaar and Mobile numbers – This will make the government support to poor more targeted and less distortive.
Identification of the beneficiaries of the government’s welfare schemes Aadhar will help to remove fake and duplicates identities. It can be used to filter the list of beneficiaries and stop the leakage of public money.
To tackle the black money issue Use of Aadhar in financial transactions can reduce the menace of black money in the country.
In getting subsidies directly to the bank account By linking Aadhar with bank accounts, subsidies like LPG will get credited to bank account directly.
Mapping development parameters In critical sectors of the country like healthcare and education, Aadhar can be used to map the development process. It can help to map skilled manpower, based on the vocational training acquired by the individual, to suitable job vacancies/ skill requirements of the State.
Considering the increasing acceptance of Aadhaar card it is must for everyone to get it issued. It is believed that the card will further be given more importance as more and more government schemes are being launched requiring it as a mandatory document.

Issues with the Aadhar Card

  • Allowing private agencies to use Aadhaar contradicts statement of objects and reasons of the Bill
    The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill states that identification of targeted beneficiaries for delivery of various government subsidies and services has become a challenge for the government. At the time of the introduction of the Bill, the government stated that “the Bill confines itself only to governmental expenditure.” However, the Bill also allows private persons to use Aadhaar as a proof of identity for any purpose.

  • Issues with sharing information collected under Aadhaar
    The provisions in the Bill with regard to protection of identity information and authentication records may be affected by an ongoing writ petition in the Supreme Court. The petition claims that Aadhaar may be in violation of right to privacy. A five-judge Bench of the court is examining whether right to privacy is a fundamental right.

  • Disclosure of information to intelligence or law enforcement agencies
    The provisions regulating disclosure of private information under the Bill differ from guidelines specified under another law — the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885. The Bill differs from the guidelines for phone tapping in two ways.
    • First, the Bill permits sharing in the interest of ‘national security’ rather than for public emergency or public safety.
    • Second, the order can be issued by an officer of the rank of Joint Secretary, instead of a Home Secretary.

  • Potential to profile individuals
    The Bill does not specifically prohibit law enforcement and intelligence agencies from using the Aadhaar number as a link (key) across various datasets (such as telephone records, air travel records, etc.) in order to recognise patterns of behaviour. Techniques such as running computer programmes across datasets for pattern recognition can be used for various purposes such as detecting potential illegal activities. However, these can also lead to harassment of innocent individuals who get identified incorrectly as potential threats.

  • UID authority’s exclusive power to make complaints
    A provision says, “Courts cannot take cognizance of any offence punishable under the Act, unless a complaint is made by the UID authority, or a person authorised by it.” This may present a conflict of interest as under the Bill the UID authority is responsible for the security and confidentiality of identity information and authentication records. There may be situations in which members or employees of the UID authority are responsible for a security breach.

  • Discretionary powers of UIDAI
    The Bill empowers the UID authority to specify demographic information that may be collected. The only restriction imposed on the authority is that it shall not record information pertaining to race, religion, caste, language, records of entitlements, income or health of the individual. This power will allow the authority to collect additional personal information, without prior approval from Parliament.

  • Collection of personal information
    The enrolment form currently being used contains fields for capturing information such as the National Population Register (NPR) receipt number, mobile number, and bank account number. Though these fields are labelled ‘optional’, it is unclear why this additional information is being recorded.

  • Ambiguity in specifying biometric information
    The Bill specifies biometric information to include photograph, fingerprints, and iris scans. Further it empowers the UID authority to specify other biological information that may be collected. Therefore, the Bill does not prevent the UID authority from requiring the collection of biometric information such as DNA.

  • Time period for maintaining authentication records
    The Bill does not specify the maximum duration for which authentication records may be stored by the UID authority. Instead it allows the UID authority to specify this through regulations. Maintaining authentication records over a long time period may be misused for activities such as profiling an individual’s behaviour.

  • Questionable Legal Backing
    The current legal backing of Aadhar is via a money bill. The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, benefits and services) Act, 2016 came into force in 2016, but this is now challenged in the Supreme Court.

  • Violation of rights
    It was argued that the UIDAI might share the biometric information of people with other government agencies and thus would violate people’s right to privacy. They also thought that using the biometric data, people might be singled out, tracked, harassed and have their rights violated. A five-judge bench of the apex court will test the validity of Aadhaar from the aspect of privacy as a Fundamental Right soon.

The government of India step to connecting Aadhar

  • Aadhaar card is to be linked with caste, domicile certificates to curb harassment faced by citizens to obtain these certificates. It will also help to the timely grant of scholarship to students belonging to the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) without any delays.
  • BHIM-Aadhaar platform, which is merchant interface of the BHIM App that has been launched for making digital payments using the Aadhaar platform. It enables citizens to make digital transactions in a much more easier way.
  • The government has made Aadhaar mandatory for opening bank accounts as well as for carrying out financial transactions above of Rs 50,000. In addition, the government has asked all the existing account holders to link Aadhaar numbers to their bank accounts.
  • The government has made compulsory the submission of Aadhaar number or the applicant’s Aadhaar Enrollment ID for the filing of income tax returns as well as for applications for PAN from July 1, 2017.
  • The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has launched ‘mAadhaar’, a new mobile application for syncing Aadhaar data on mobile phones. The application allows users to have their Aadhaar profile on their mobile as a quick and convenient identification proof. It also lets users lock/unlock their biometric data that are linked to Aadhaar via the app to secure their personal data.

Aadhar Card and Right To Privacy

Balance b/w individual rights and National interest
  • In its zeal to aggregate data in electronic form and target subsidies better, the government cannot ignore its responsibility to protect citizens from the perils of the cyber era.
  • Legislation, it is imperative that the Union Government enact a privacy legislation that clearly defines the rights of citizens and it should be consistent with the provision of the Constitution.
  • The government should factor in privacy risks and include procedures and systems to protect citizen information in any system of data collection.
  • It should create an institutional mechanism such as the Privacy Commissioner to prevent unauthorised disclosure of or access to such data.
  • Our national cyber cell should be made well capable of dealing with any cyber-attack in the shortest time.
  • We need to educate people on the risks involved and highlight examples of ID thefts and fraud.
  • The government should recognise all dimensions of the right to privacy and address concerns about data safety, protection from unauthorised interception, surveillance, use of personal identifiers and bodily privacy.
  • We need to take a level-headed approach and ensure that ample safeguards are put in place for data protection and privacy.

Data Protection Bill

After a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court on the right to privacy, Minister of Electronic and Information Technology, has indicated that the data protection law would be soon bring by government to protect country man privacy and data. The union minister said that the new bill would be drafted keeping the recent right to privacy judgment in mind. The bill will be drafted taking key inputs from the former Supreme Court Judge, BN Srikrishna.
The Supreme Court declared the Centre’s flagship Aadhaar scheme as constitutionally valid. The apex court, however, struck down some of its provisions including its linking with bank accounts, mobile phones and school admissions. A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India held that Aadhaar would remain mandatory for the filing of IT returns and allotment of Permanent Account Number (PAN). But, it would not be mandatory to link Aadhaar to bank accounts and also telecom service providers cannot seek its linking for mobile connections.
Aadhaar would not be mandatory for school admissions, as also for the examinations conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Examination, National Eligibility cum Entrance Test for medical entrance and the University Grants Commission. The bench struck down the national security exception under the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act. It said Aadhaar is meant to help the benefits reach the marginalised sections of society and takes into account the dignity of people not only from personal but also community point of view. The top court said Aadhaar is serving much bigger public interest. Aadhaar means unique and it is better to be unique than being best.