Aadhaar can't be used for snooping

The Supreme Court’s approval of a limited use of the Aadhaar card is in line with its earlier rulings on the matter. It has reiterated that the possession of the card should not be mandatory for citizens to avail of the benefits and services offered by the government. But it has allowed use of the card for distribution of goods through the public distribution (PDS) system and disbursement of LPG subsidies. These are the two areas where the Aadhaar card is mainly used now to ensure that the government’s subsidies are rightly targeted. Though the court has not given its final word on Aadhaar, the government and other agencies were extending its use to many areas. This might stop now. The reasoning behind the court’s position is sound. Aadhaar has not covered the entire population yet, and making it mandatory would deprive large numbers of citizens of their entitlements that are dependent on it. Aadhaar cards have got to be linked to bank accounts. This too will take time.

One important point of criticism about Aadhaar is that it is liable to be misused. It is a unique identification marker with the bio-metric data of the card holder embedded in it. An identification mechanism, aided by technology, is necessary in various areas where the citizens come into contact with the government. The court has not struck down the idea as such, but it has, for the time being, protected the freedom of individuals to take their own decision on whether they should pass their personal information to the UID authorities. The situation is compounded by the fact that the UIDAI mechanism and procedures are not backed by any legal statute. It is based on an executive decision and aggrieved citizens may not have recourse to legal remedies now.

The court has done well to exercise caution on the matter. It has for now separated the practical issues connected with Aadhaar from the legal and constitutional issues involved in it. It has referred the validity of the Aadhaar scheme to be decided by a larger constitutional bench. It is important that the privacy of indi-viduals, which is a fundamental right, is not compromised by any government project or action. While an easy and effective identification system is needed, there should not be any scope for its misuse by the government or others through theft of identity or by other means. The present ruling may be taken as acceptance, in practice, of a part of the Aadhaar scheme, which will be valid till the court gives its final view on it.
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