Saturday, April 9, 2016
|
|
Aadhaar on a firmer foundation?

The new law makes it a universal identity proof but better clarity will prevail only after formation of rules and regulations

CONGRESS MP Jairam Ramesh recently moved the Supreme Court against passage of Aadhaar bill as ‘Money Bill’. Opposition had been demanding amendments in the bill claiming that individual’s right to privacy will be threatened if the unique number is made compulsory for identification. 

The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 was enacted to bypass Supreme Court’s order prohibiting mandatory use of Aadhaar card for social welfare schemes. In fact, a larger bench of the Apex Court is still examining whether intrusive aspects of unique identification encroaches upon citizen’s right to privacy.

There’s no denying the fact that Aadhaar weeds out duplication as was evident with surrender of multiple LPG connections when subsidy started arriving in bank accounts. But is Aadhaar just about subsidy schemes? The premise of Aadhaar is that it’s put to use as a universal proof of identity by public and private entities. So, even when you have surrendered that LPG subsidy and don’t take any benefit from the welfare schemes, you may still be required to get the unique ID. Banks continue to ask for linking the account with Aadhaar numbers, private schools want parents to furnish the UID numbers of their children even though there’s no subsidy to be disbursed and no chance of duplication here. The Union government is also mulling linking mobile numbers with Aadhaar as another measure to curb terrorism. 

The premise of Aadhaar is that it’s put to use as a universal proof of identity by public and private entities. So, even when you have surrendered that LPG subsidy and don’t take any benefit from the welfare schemes, you may still be required to get the unique ID

It will be a good idea to look at the provisions of the Act in this context and also compare it with the earlier bill proposed by the UPA government in 2010 besides the amendments suggested by the Opposition in Rajya Sabha. The 2010 bill was sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee which had deemed it unacceptable. Some of the concerns it had flagged remain unresolved in the new law as well. 

Is it mandatory now?

The new Act specifically states that the government may require an individual to furnish Aadhaar number to receive a subsidy, benefit or service for which the expenditure is incurred from, or the receipt therefrom forms part of, the Consolidated Fund of India. Consolidated Fund is the prime entity which supplies all the money for regular business of the government and repayment of debts. 

On the other hand, Section 8(3)(c) of the Act says that any entity seeking identity information from individuals need to inform them about alternatives to such a submission which explicitly means that there needs to be options to Aadhaar. 

However, Section 57 of the Act effectively overrules it by saying that nothing contained in this Act shall prevent the use of Aadhaar number to establish identity of an individual for any purpose by the State or corporate. This clause also expands the use of Aadhaar beyond the mere transfer of subsidies and allows private companies to coerce individuals into providing their unique numbers if they want their services like telecom services. This provision was not present in the 2010 Bill.

Such dichotomies will dissolve only after formation of rules and regulations which again need to be put before the two Houses of the Parliament even though the main Act passed the muster in guise of a Money Bill.

Rules and regulations again need to be put before the two Houses of the Parliament even though the main Act passed the muster in guise of a Money Bill

In the Rajya Sabha, the Opposition had demanded amendments to deal with these issues. It had sought alternative means of identification to any person choosing not to be part of the Aadhaar system. Another amendment called for restriction in use of Aadhaar numbers only for targeting of government benefits or service and not for any other purpose. 

The regulations to be formed under the new Act will also specify the procedure for omitting and deactivating of an Aadhaar number. In fact, this relates to one of the amendments proposed by the Opposition allowing a person to “opt out” of the Aadhaar system, even if already enrolled. 

The regulations to be formed under the new Act will also specify the procedure for omitting and deactivating of an Aadhaar number

What privacy?

For those concerned about privacy, the solace is that the Unique Identification Authority of India can’t share the core biometric information with anyone for any purpose. The government and private agencies requesting it for authentication would get information excluding biometric details. However, the 2010 bill was stronger in this regard as it also excluded demographic details like age, gender, religion, ethnicity which certain analysts believe can lead to targeting of specific communities if the government so wants. 

The information, under the new law, can be disclosed on order from a court not inferior to that of a district judge. Another exception is on orders of an officer not below rank of joint secretary in Union Government who feel it’s in interest of ‘national security’, a term which the Opposition called too vague. However, so are the terms ‘public emergency’ and ‘public safety’ with which the Opposition wanted to replace ‘national security’ with. 

The information, under the new law, can be disclosed on order from a court not inferior to that of a district judge. Another exception is on orders of an officer not below rank of joint secretary in Union Government who feel it’s in interest of ‘national security’

Consent and data

The new Act also has provisions related to informed consent at the time of enrolment as well as at the time of authentication. The entity like a private company requesting authentication of a person has to inform him about the use his identity information will be put to. Failure to comply with these provisions will lead to upto three years imprisonment or fine upto Rs 1 lakh. No such provision existed in the 2010 Bill. 

It remains to be seen how well these provisions will be implemented. But doubts are already being cast on the strength of our security systems to prevent and recognise data thefts. In fact, one of the most significant observations made by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the 2010 bill was that creation of a massive database of personal information should be preceded by a comprehensive data protection law. The committee had acknowledged that in the absence of a privacy law that governs the collection, use and storage of personal data, the UID project would lead to data abuse, and the surveillance and profiling of individuals. 

in the chaos around Aadhaar, we have conveniently forgotten the National Population Register (NPR) which made collection of biometric and demographic data of residents compulsory much before Aadhaar

Multiple court cases examining various aspects of Aadhaar signify the hazards related to collection of personal data even as we look forward to halt on pilferage through social welfare schemes.

However, in the chaos around Aadhaar, we have conveniently forgotten the National Population Register (NPR) which was mandated under the Citizenship Act 1955 and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. It made collection of biometric and demographic data of residents compulsory much before Aadhaar came into play. That NPR has remained out of limelight is purely because of its slow progress. But now NPR dovetails with Aadhaar to avoid duplication. While latter is required only when you seek services from government or private entities, registration with NPR is compulsory even when you are living in isolation. 

So even if you have avoided Aadhaar until now, wait for the Census officer to knock at your door soon with a right to tag you. 

References:
Difference between the two bills was accessed from PR Legislative Research

Liked this story? GoI Monitor is a non-profit, and we depend on readers like you to Support Our Efforts

Add new comment