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Aadhaar impact: Govt working on a law to protect personal data

Privacy is central to the legal challenges facing Aadhaar, the 12-digit biometric unique identity number, which has raised data breach and privacy concerns. The government, though, is keen to expand the reach of Aadhaar, saying it is necessary to plug leaks in subsidy schemes.

india Updated: Aug 01, 2017 20:46 IST
Ashok Bagriya
People queued up at an Aadhaar enrolment camp. India doesn’t have a separate law for protecting personal data, which at present is covered under the information technology act
People queued up at an Aadhaar enrolment camp. India doesn’t have a separate law for protecting personal data, which at present is covered under the information technology act(HT File Photo)

The government was planning a law to protect data and had set up a committee that would come out with suggestions to ensure that personal information was protected, the Supreme Court was told on Tuesday.

Retired Supreme Court judge BN Srikrishna-led 10-member panel had been tasked with drafting the law on data protection, additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta said in the court during a hearing on the constitutional status of the right to privacy.

“The committee will identify key data protection issues in India and recommend measures of addressing them,” the law officer said.

Privacy is central to the legal challenges facing Aadhaar, the 12-digit biometric unique identity number, which has raised data breach and privacy concerns. Critics also say it helps government spy on people.

India doesn’t have a separate law for protecting personal data, which at present is covered under the information technology act.

The Supreme Court has decided to settle the issue of privacy before taking up Aadhaar pleas.

One of the main worries of the petitioners is the storage and sharing of biometric information with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which is tasked with collecting data, including fingerprints and iris scans, and issuing Aadhaar to all Indian residents.

The government is keen to expand the reach of Aadhaar, saying it is necessary to plug leaks in subsidy schemes and to ensure benefits reach those targeted.

But there have been instances of details finding their way in public domain. More than 200 government websites had published names of beneficiaries of welfare schemes with their addresses and Aadhaar numbers, the government told Parliament last month.

It has also faced some tough questions from the court which has said if privacy was not a given the status of a fundamental right, where and who would a citizen complain to.

Privacy was protected under the Aadhaar law but it wasn’t a constitutional right, the UIDAI said on Tuesday.

“Aadhaar data cannot be used for surveillance or tracking citizens... Privacy is a vague and subjective concept and cannot be elevated to the level of a fundamental right,” additional solicitor general Mehta said.

The government recognised privacy as a common right and protected it through laws such as right to information act and income tax act that prohibited disclosure of personal details of individuals.

Mehta also urged the court to leave it “to the wisdom of Parliament” if privacy was a fundamental right. Constitution-framers also did not touch on this vague concept, he said.

Earlier in the day, Maharashtra government, too, took a similar line, saying only Parliament, which spoke for India’s 1.2 billion people, should have the final say on privacy.

During previous hearings, non-BJP states have opposed the Centre’s stand that privacy was not a fundamental right.