No victory, say Aadhaar sceptics

No victory, say Aadhaar sceptics

People giving their biometrics at an Aadhaar enrolment centre in Bengaluru.

The Supreme Court’s Aadhaar verdict on Wednesday is no big victory, say privacy advocates in Bengaluru.

The court has struck down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act that allows private entities to seek Aadhaar data. The government, however, can continue to use the unique number to distribute welfare benefits and subsidies.

Aadhaar continues to remain mandatory for filing your income tax returns. An advocate with the Alternative Law Forum, says the verdict has far-reaching implications. “It is a big let down. It is extremely disappointing. The verdict has not addressed the problems created due to Aadhaar- exclusions of the poor in terms of services, profiling of individuals. It does nothing to assure us that the data collected will be safe,” he says.

The advocate sees it as a blow against democracy: “Several problems have not been addressed,” he told Metrolife. “

Biometrics cannot be compromised; once it is done it is done forever. And no prior and informed consent is taken from people before their Aadhaar number is collected. There aren’t enough checks and balances in place to ensure the safety of data,” he observes.

The court hasn’t noticed that by linking Aadhaar to various agencies, the government can actually collect and build a profile. Private entities who already have Aadhaar details may continue to use it. Aadhaar is touted as a tool to reduce corruption but even that is debatable, adds the advocate.

“It is not clear what they really mean by striking down certain sections. Do they mean private parties cannot mandate Aadhar-based authentication or that they can still use it? Where do public sector banks really come into the picture?” a Bengaluru-based independent researcher asks.

At the moment it seems the court is trying to curb the government’s powers but third-party vendors continue in the framework.

“In this context, we need to temper our optimism a little,” he remarks.

Tax assessee? Read this

A senior income tax official says the verdict changes nothing for those filing tax returns. Section 139 AA (1) of the Income Tax Act under the Finance Act of 2017 lays down that Aadhaar is mandatory for filing returns and applying for PAN.  

“People should continue to cite their Aadhaar numbers to file returns.”

Many concerns

About 10 crore people have been denied Aadhaar on grounds of duplication (even when they don’t have Aadhaar). That is akin to civil death.

Making Aadhaar mandatory for welfare leads to exclusion of those for whom Aadhaar is denied and those whose biometrics don’t match because of faulty machines (as at ration shops).

Aadhaar data is already being used for profiling. Citizens have no control over how their data is used. No data protection regime is in place. nUsing biometrics for authentication  brings its own problems: crores of people are denied benefits. At ration shops in Karnataka, denial is as high as 62 per cent.

Once your biometric details are compromised, you can do nothing about it. This is a real danger to citizens.

Aadhaar is enabling frauds--a major mobile service provider opened accounts for people without their knowledge.

(According to Vinay Sreenivasa, advocate Alternative Law Forum)

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