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SC declares right to privacy a fundamental right: What happens to Aadhaar now?

While today's verdict doesn't directly deal with the Aadhaar issue, it will have serious implications on whether the government can make the biometric card mandatory.

BT Online   New Delhi     Last Updated: August 24, 2017  | 17:59 IST
SC declares right to privacy a fundamental right: What happens to Aadhaar now?

The Supreme Court today declared the right to privacy is a fundamental right. Today's judgment has settled a year-long debate which started after the government made an attempt to make 12-digit unique identification number mandatory for every citizen. While today's verdict doesn't directly deal with the Aadhaar issue, it will have serious implications on whether the government can make the biometric card mandatory. The apex court's judgement was limited to the issue of right to privacy and the question whether Aadhaar violates right to privacy will be dealt with the five-judge bench which has been hearing the petitions since 2015.

The right to privacy verdict was delivered by a nine-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar. The nine-judge constitution bench comprised Chief Justice Jagdish Khehar, Justice J. Chelameswar, Justice S.A. Bobde, Justice R.K. Agrawal, Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice S. Abdul Nazeer.

The Constitution bench today ruled that the right was "an intrinsic part of the Right to Life and Personal Liberty under Article 21 and the entire Part III of the Constitution". The ruling on the highly contentious issue dealt with petitions challenging the government's move to make Aadhaar mandatory for people seeking to benefit from various social welfare schemes.

 

HERE'S WHAT EXPERTS FEEL ABOUT PRIVACY INFRINGMENT AFTER AADHAAR
Experts fighting for privacy have termed Aadhaar as a mass surveillance technology. They say that sharing of biometric data under the Aadhaar scheme invades upon human dignity and the right to privacy. It is feared that the government can use people's data without their consent and they can also do illegal profiling. It is also believed that by making Aadhaar mandatory for everything, the government can easily monitor your phone calls, banking details, travel, purchasing behaviour and social interactions without people's consent. And it becomes more threatening in India because India does not have any data protection law.

Lok Sabha MP Baijayant Jay Panda had earlier said: "We are rapidly becoming a digital economy. We are a nation of billion cell phones and yet we have antiquated laws for data protection and privacy. Problems of ID theft, fraud and misrepresentation are real concerns." Former Aadhaar Chiarman Nandan Nilekani, despite being the former chairman of  UIADI, had urged the government to come up with a framework to protect the data of individuals using technology. "Time is running out and India needs to take a strategic view on data colonisation, privacy and data dominance and how data is used for public good. It is a policy issue and not a technology issue that needs to be addressed soon," Nilekani had said. The statement came after the Central government stated that privacy was a part of Right to Life under Article 21, but did not enjoy the status of a fundamental right. Today's verdict on the right to privacy has settled that debate.

WHY GOVT STILL CAN MAKE AADHAAR MANDATORY - Fundamental right not absolute right
Earlier during the hearing, the apex court had observed that right to privacy cannot be absolute and the state may have powers to put reasonable curbs. "We live in an age of big data and the state is entitled to regulate the data whether it is for the purpose of regulating crime, taxation or other activities. Right to privacy cannot be so absolute that it prevents the state from legislating or regulating it," it had said: However, in 2015, a three-judge bench comprising justices J Chelameswar, SA Bobde and C Nagappan had ruled: "Aadhaar will not be used for any other purposes except PDS, kerosene and LPG distribution system." The court had also directed that information accessed by the UIDAI shall not be used except in criminal investigations, with the permission of the court.

 

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