Nine judge constitutional bench of Supreme Court has recently declared right to privacy as a fundamental right. This will have far reaching implications in times to come, but the immediate impact will be on Aadhar. The status of privacy as a fundamental right itself came to question while three judges bench was deciding the legality of Aadhar. The discussion on legality of Aadhar will now continue with the difference that privacy is a fundamental right and any law or executive action in contradiction to it will be declared null and void by the hon’ble Supreme Court. With over 1 billion Indians already having Aadhar card, the decision on whether Aadhar will go or stay is going to have far reaching impact on future on Indian governance, economy, society and politics.
In the last few years, the government has aggressively promoted Aadhar & made it mandatory to deliver a myriad number of benefits of its scheme. The intention is to ensure that the benefits of the scheme reach the targeted poorest section of society. Together, the opening of Jan Dhan accounts, mobile and internet penetration the trinity of Jan Dhan, Aadhar, Mobile (JAM) is seen as the panacea to prevent inclusionary and exclusionary errors in subsidies. Other than this, with plans of linking it to PAN card, the tax evasion through fake PAN cards will reduce. Now, when the government has already made such long strides in terms of implementation of Aadhar, its fate hangs in uncertainty. It is clear that it will be a huge setback both in terms of crackdown on corruption and waste of resource used in making and implementing Aadhar if SC declares it unconstitutional. And the fate of millions of poor who will benefit from this effective targeting which Aadhar provides hangs in uncertainty with it. Now, the question is will all its benefits, why are other who oppose the scheme, do it so vehemently.
The opposition to Aadhar revolves around two issues: citizen’s willingness to share biometric data & security of the data collected. With the privacy judgement specifically mentioning individual’s right over his body and right to be left alone, can the state compel an individual to share his biometric data? The other side heowever, is of the opinion that the state has no other way to confirm individual’s identity other than biometric data. Social identity can be faked but not the biometric identity. How can a state accrue benefits of its scheme to an individual without knowing her identity? I strongly feel that if an individual is doing an economic transaction with the state, the state has every right to know her identity for the larger public good. Entitlements are individual’s right against the state and a person’s right to privacy must not inhibit other’s right to education or food security.
There are other apprehensions that the state will become a surveillance state, and monitor the activities of citizen. It may specifically punish those, whom it found acting against its interests. Thus it may turn into a tool to curb dissent, on which a democratic polity rests. With little in the Aadhar bill that talks about the mechanism to ensure data security, there are worries that it may be leaked to private parties. Some other non state actors may hack into the data, which may be detrimental to data security. However, the government has already acknowledged the vacuum of data security laws in India and an expert committee to recommend on data security has been formed. The SC can provide a particular deadline to the govt. to bring the bill for the same. There are many examples around the world where the security of citizen’s data is maintained with different mechanisms, for example: there can be two secret pass codes that are compulsory before one can access the data, one should be given to the card holder while other is saved in the server. The details can be accessed only when the two codes match. This will mean that data cannot be accessed without citizen’s will and ensure its security.
Hence, calling for a total withdrawal of Aadhar act(if it so happens) will be a waste of resources, it will inhibit social inclusion and impact the governance adversely. In the age of technology, the government must use it effectively to ensure good governance, transparency and social equity. What India needs at the moment is a strong data security provision rather than a recall of Aadhar.