The Centre on Thursday strongly defended its decision to seed Aadhaar numbers with mobile phone numbers, telling the Supreme Court that it could have been hauled up for contempt if the verification of mobile users was not done by it.
However, the top court said the government had misinterpreted its order and used it as a "tool" to make Aadhaar mandatory for mobile users.
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, hearing a clutch of petitions challenging Aadhaar and its enabling 2016 law, was told by Attorney General K K Venugopal that it was the specific direction of the apex court to the Centre to verify all SIM card users within a year.
"The (February 6, 2017) order of the Supreme Court was a positive direction to verify SIM cards," Venugopal said, adding that the failure on part of the government could have made it liable to be hauled up for contempt.
The top law officer was responding to the apex court's earlier observation that it had not ordered mandatory linkage of Aadhaar and the government misinterpreted its order on a PIL filed by 'Lokniti Foundation'.
"In fact, there was no such direction from the Supreme Court, but you took it and used it as a tool to make Aadhaar mandatory for mobile users," the bench, also comprising Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, had said.
Venugopal then referred to the recent order of the court that had put on hold the mandatory linking of Aadhaar till it decides the PILs and said that currently, the unique identity was not mandatory to obtain a new phone connection.
"We are waiting for the decision of the court. If the court allows it, there will be no chance of forgery and fraud if Aadhaar is linked to SIM card," he said, adding that it will remain optional till the final disposal of the matter.
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for former High Court judge, Justice K S Puttaswamy, referred to technical experts' views on Aadhaar architecture and said that real-time surveillance of citizens as possible.
For the first time in a democracy, something like CIDR has been implemented and the apex court has to balance human rights and new technologies that are capable of being misused, he said. Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR) is a government agency that stores and manages data for the country's Aadhaar project.
"You cannot have a surveillance state in a democracy. The identity of the person, date and time, and location are the three elements of surveillance," he said, adding that all the three can be known by using the Aadhaar technologies.
He then referred to the affidavit of the Centre filed on March 9 and said an expert report by Manindra Agarwal of IIT Kanpur has categorically said that breach of verification lock can lead to leakage of information about the location of transactions undertaken by a citizen during last five years.
Divan said, "Even an illegal immigrant can get Aadhaar as there is nobody from the government to check the authenticity of the documents submitted at the time of enrolment."