The Aadhaar project falls short in limiting biometrics collection to voluntary choice and in guaranteeing data protection
What really is Aadhaar all about? Is the machinery that supports it constitutionally sustainable? How does the creation of a central identity database affect the traditional relationship between the state and its citizens? What, in a democracy, ought to be the role of government?
On Wednesday, January 17, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court is scheduled to commence hearings on a slew of petitions that will bring these questions and more to the forefront of a constitutional battle for the ages.
From voluntary to coercion
Mountain of data collected without any safeguards in place
Citizens were coerced into parting with private information, compelled by threats from the government
SC intervention on Aadhaar
The court issued interim orders, on different occasions, clarifying that the programme had to be treated as voluntary, and that no person should be denied a service simply because he or she hadn’t enrolled themselves with the UIDAI.
Ultimately, as expected, the Aadhaar Bill came to be passed, and the Aadhaar Act came into force
- This law not only retroactively legitimises the actions of the UIDAI before its enactment but also puts in place the structure that underpins the Aadhaar programme
- The law itself terms enrolment with the UIDAI as voluntary, but, as we’ve since seen, the government has expanded, and continues to expand, the use of the number for a wide array of purposes
Now, before the Supreme Court, the Aadhaar Act and its various provisions stand challenged, together with the host of notifications issued by the government, which link Aadhaar to different services.
Heart of the matter
Ultimately, in question are four core interests:
- The first concerns whether the state can at all compel a person to part with his or her biometric information without securing the person’s informed consent
- The second involves questions over the surveillance apparatus that the Aadhaar Act creates
- The third raises questions over the level of exclusion caused by the use of Aadhaar, for example, concerns over the extent to which the programme meets its purported objectives
- The fourth questions the degree of protection offered to the data that the UIDAI collects, stores and operates
The Aadhaar act is invasive
It has put in place flagrantly infracts fundamental rights, granting, in the process, enormously invasive powers to the state.
The Aadhaar database grants government access into people’s lives
When a government creates a central database such as this, when it links that database with every conceivable human activity, it naturally allows itself access to the most intimate details of a person’s life.
Article 21 infringed
The essence of individual freedom, of the right to life that Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees, is that every person has a basic entitlement to bodily integrity, to decide for themselves how they want to lead their lives.
But, how, we might wonder, can we truly be free, when the state is watching our every step?
Super surveillance: A seamless police state
The Aadhaar Act, in centrally maintaining all this data, enables a form of super surveillance, permits the creation of a perfect police state, allowing the government to track every one of our activities in real-time, to trace, at any given point of time, a person’s physical location
Presumption of guilt
It only emboldens the state to treat everyone one of us as criminals, to make a presumption of guilt at the grave cost of basic civil liberties.
UIDAI made supreme
- This mechanism for surveillance is further facilitated by the Aadhaar Act’s central design, which vests in the UIDAI a conflicting dual responsibility:
- To act both as the custodian of all the information that it collects and to act as a regulator of the Aadhaar database
Breaches will only be known to UIDAI
This means that any breach made to the data that is centrally amassed, unless exposed in the manner in which The Tribune recently did, will only be known to the UIDAI
Effect: It will then be for the UIDAI to decide how it wants to remedy such intrusions
As a result, when our Aadhaar data is leaked, we will be left with no recourse to an effective remedy.
Basic access to welfare
Given that Aadhaar is being seeded with public distribution schemes, the likelihood of people being denied basic welfare services, therefore, increases in manifold ways.
Labourers and elderly people
The elderly and people involved in manual labour are but two groups of people whose fingerprints are difficult to record accurately, imperilling, thereby, their access to state services.
The question here is ultimately one of proportionality, one of justice. In the case of the Aadhaar Act, the government’s intentions are patently clear. The aim is to create a seamless police state, which will chill our freedom and place the state in a position of rampant power. Will the Supreme Court dare to stop this