AADHAR : SC Final Verdict

The Supreme Court, in a majority opinion, upheld Aadhaar as a reasonable restriction on individual privacy that fulfils the government’s legitimate aim to provide dignity to a large, marginalised population living in abject poverty.

 

Observations

  • The Constitution does not exist for a few or minority of the people of India, but ‘We the People’.
  • Aadhaar is a document of empowerment. An unparalleled identity proof. A document that cannot be duplicated, unlike PAN, ration card, and passport.
  • Technology had become a vital tool for ensuring good governance in a social welfare state. Schemes such as the PDS, scholarships, mid-day meals and LPG subsidies involve a huge amount of money, and fool proof Aadhaar helped welfare reach the poor.

 

Constitutionality

  • Majority opinion upheld the constitutionality of Aadhaar.

 

Privacy

  • Aadhaar is a reasonable restriction on individual privacy.
  • The Supreme Court quashed or read down several provisions in the Aadhaar Act in order to de-fang any possibility of the state misusing data.
  • Court held that authentication records should not be retained for more than six months. It declared the archiving of records for five years as bad in law.
  • It also prohibited the creation of a metabase for transactions.
  • It read down Section 33 (1), which allowed the disclosure of Aadhaar information on the orders of a District Judge. This cannot be done now without giving the person concerned an opportunity to be heard.
  • The Supreme Court struck down Section 33(2), which allowed the disclosure of Aadhaar information for national security reasons on the orders of an officer not below a Joint Secretary.

 

Arguments

  • The Supreme Court said neither were individuals profiled nor their movements traced when Aadhaar was used to avail government benefits under Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act, 2016.
  • The statute only sought minimal biometric information, and this did not amount to invasion of privacy.
  • Authentication transactions through Aadhaar did not ask for the purpose, nature or location of the transaction.
  • The collection of personal data and its authentication was done through registered devices. The Authority did not get any information related to the IP address or the GPS location from where authentication was performed.

 

Passing as Money Bill constitutional:

  • The SC upheld the passage of the Aadhaar Act as a Money Bill.

 

Arguments

  • Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act requires authentication by Aadhaar card if beneficiaries wanted to access subsidies, benefits and services.
  • Since all these were welfare measures sought to be extended to the marginalised sections, a collective reading would show that the purpose is to expand the coverage of all kinds of aid, support, grant, advantage, relief provisions, facility, utility or assistance which may be extended with the support of the Consolidated Fund of India with the objective of targeted delivery.
  • Aadhaar was vital to ensure that government aid reached the targeted beneficiaries, and hence, the Act was validly passed as a Money Bill.

 

Aadhar linkages

  • The majority opinion upheld the PAN-Aadhaar linkage, but declared linking Aadhaar with bank accounts and mobile SIM cards unconstitutional.
  • The Election Commission may resume the voluntary linking of voter identification cards with the Aadhaar database, given that, prima facie, the judgment by the Supreme Court’s five-judge Bench does not have any adverse remarks on the issue.

 

Children

  • The court insulated children from the Aadhaar regime.
  • The card was not necessary for children aged between six and 14 under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan as right to education was a fundamental right.
  • Statutory bodies such as the CBSE and the UGC cannot ask students to produce their Aadhaar cards for examinations like the NEET and the JEE.
  • Permission of parents and guardians was a must before enrolling children into Aadhaar.
  • Once they attained the age of majority, children could opt out of Aadhaar.

 

Section 57

  • The Supreme Court held the portion, which gives a free hand to private entities to demand Aadhaar from individuals, unconstitutional.
  • Section 57 allows not only the state but also any body corporate or person or private entity to demand Aadhaar from citizens for the purpose of identification.
  • This provision had offered statutory support to mobile companies and private service providers to seek individuals’ Aadhaar card for identification purposes.

Arguments

  • A mere contract between a private entity and an individual was not enough to demand Aadhaar from the latter.

 

Directions to the Government

  • The court further directed the government and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to bring in regulations to prevent rightfully entitled people from being denied benefits.

 

Significance

  • The resident has been recognised as being at the heart of the project, and they have gained new rights that help them assert their ownership over their data.
  • It will bolster good governance, and the delivery of services to the poorer sections of society.

 

Concerns

  • Lakhs of people would continue to be denied their universal rights for not having Aadhaar.
  • The majority opinion in the Aadhaar verdict is silent on deleting biometric data already collected by phone companies.
  • The judgment would help little in protecting the right to privacy because the Centre had privatised or outsourced many of its responsibilities. Such companies would have access to Aadhaar data.
  • The Supreme Court ruling that Aadhaar is not mandatory for opening bank accounts could affect online opening of accounts.
  • The bankers say that since there are no other officially valid documents apart from Aadhaar for use digitally, accounts cannot be opened online if the customer decides not to share the number.

 

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