RS Prasad on Aadhaar: Privacy argument shouldn’t be used to shield corrupt, terrorists

At the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad says Aadhaar is the digital identity to supplement the physical identity, and is necessary to plug leaks in subsidy schemes and ensure benefits.
Union IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad addresses the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in New Delhi on Friday.(Sanchit Khanna / HT Photo)
Union IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad addresses the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in New Delhi on Friday.(Sanchit Khanna / HT Photo)
Updated on Dec 04, 2017 12:17 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Nisheeth Upadhyay

Union law and information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad made a case for the 12-digit biometric Aadhaar number on Friday, saying the privacy argument should not be used to “prohibit innovation” and “shield the corrupt and terrorists”.

The minister’s remarks come at a time critics say Aadhaar is an intrusive tool open to misuse by the government, which has already collected fingerprints, iris scans and personal details of more than 80% of the country’s 1.25 billion people.

“This is my Aadhaar ... It does not contain my caste, my community, my religion, my income. But the system contains my fingerprint and my iris,” he said, showing his Aadhaar card to the audience at the 15th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit.

Allaying fears surrounding Aadhaar and data privacy, the minister said the government will come up with a data-protection law that will be a beacon for the world.

The government is pushing for mandatory use of Aadhaar for various schemes and services, including bank accounts and phone numbers, saying it is necessary to plug leaks in its welfare programmes and curb corruption. But activists say the law and the government’s decision infringe individual privacy.

“Privacy can’t become the shield of the corrupt and terrorists,” he said in defence of the Aadhaar law.

“Aadhaar is the digital identity to supplement the physical identity.”

The Supreme Court ruled recently that individual privacy is a fundamental right, a verdict that many say will test the validity of the biometric identification project already facing legal challenges.

A nine-judge Constitution bench of the top court will hear a clutch of petitions challenging the legality of the Aadhaar law and government notifications of linking the identification number with bank accounts and cell phone numbers.

The law minister clarified the government’s position on linking bank accounts with Aadhaar. He said: “50 crore people have voluntarily linked 81 crore bank accounts to Aadhaar cards. I don’t understand why there’s opposition to the government initiative by other people?”

He spoke about Digital India, the Narendra Modi-led government’s signature programme that aims to build synergy between good governance and the use of IT.

“We don’t want to miss the digital revolution ... Digital India is more for the poor and underprivileged, and designed to bring in digital inclusion ... Let us bring in technology which is affordable, which is inclusive,” he said and added that these are the basic themes of Digital India.

Prasad said the government’s target is to push India’s digital economy to $1 trillion “in five to eight years”.

On rising instances of judicial activism, the law minister suggested that lawmaking should be left to the lawmakers.

“We are proud of India’s judiciary ... We are committed to the independence of the judiciary... But I must only flag one thing. The makers of our Constitution desired that governance must be left to those elected to govern the people of India and accountable to the people of India.”

The law and IT minister also gave his take on the raging controversy engulfing Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s movie, Padmavati, which is facing protests from the Rajput community over alleged distortion of history.

“The matter is pending in courts and a parliamentary committee. But at the same time creativity must be respected and it has to be ensured that there is no violence. A balance has to be achieved between the two,” he said.

Full coverage here

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