SC notice on validity of Aadhaar access to private entities

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to the Centre on a plea seeking examination of the constitutional validity of amended Aadhaar law and the associated regulations allowing private entities to use the unique identification as proof of identity for opening bank accounts and mobile phone connections.

A bench of Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and Justice B.R. Gavai, after a brief hearing, issued notices to the Centre and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). The plea contends the amended law violated right fundamental rights such as the right to privacy.

“The impugned Act is unconstitutional as it violates the rights guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution. It enables state surveillance and private surveillance of citizens, and commercial exploitation of personal information that is collected and stored for state purposes,” the plea filed by former army officer S.G. Vombatkere and social activist Bezwada Wilson.

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The petitioners have challenged the validity of Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Act, 2019 and the Aadhaar (Pricing of Aadhaar Authentication Services) Regulations, 2019, contending these violated fundamental rights of privacy, equality and freedom of speech and expression.

“The impugned Act goes against this unequivocal restriction by opening up the Aadhaar system to private entities. This is constitutionally impermissible,” the plea said.

In September 2018, a five-judge Constitution bench, by a majority verdict of 4:1, ruled Aadhaar law as “constitutional” with certain caveats stating unique identification would not be mandatory for bank accounts, mobile connections or school admissions.

The petitioners contended private entities joining the Aadhaar ecosystem exacerbates the threat of surveillance. “The architecture and design of the Aadhaar project enable mass surveillance. Increasing the number of entities which are allowed access to the Aadhaar database increases this risk of surveillance exponentially,” the plea said.

The top court is already seized of a similar plea and tagged it with the other pending matter.

Besides seeking striking down of amended Aadhaar law, the plea sought a direction that private entities, under public duty, should not store the database.

The amendment bill sanctions a stiff Rs 1 crore penalty and a jail term for private entities involved in violating provisions on Aadhaar data, passed earlier by Lok Sabha on July 4. The amendment was introduced on June 24 to in place of an ordinance issued in March 2019.

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