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Google, smart card companies don’t want Aadhaar to succeed, UIDAI tells SC

The Supreme Court is hearing a set of petitions calling the Aadhaar scheme a gross violation of an individual’s fundamental right to privacy.

india Updated: Apr 17, 2018 22:32 IST
Bhadra Sinha
Bhadra Sinha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Aadhaar,Supreme Court,Unique Identification Authority of India
A woman goes through the process of finger scanning for the Aadhaar database system, at a registration centre in New Delhi.(Reuters File Photo)

Defending Aadhaar, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) claimed before the Supreme Court on Tuesday that private entities, including smart card companies and Internet giant Google, don’t want the 12-digit biometric ID system to succeed and rejected the contention that data collected for the project can be used to create voters’ profiles to rig elections.

During a hearing on the cases challenging the constitutional validity of Aadhaar, Chief Justice Dipak Misra remarked that democracy would be at peril if data collected during Aadhaar authentication is misused for “influencing the elections.” This apprehension was echoed by Justice DY Chandrachud, a member of the bench hearing the cases.

“The real apprehension is that data available can be used to influence election outcome. Will democracy survive if data is used to influence the electoral outcome? We have seen it,” Justice Chandrachud said, alluding to the recent controversy surrounding political consultant Cambridge Analytica’s alleged abuse of citizens’ data to influence the the 2016 US election and its reported attempt to influence the outcome of the Brexit referendum.

The bench is hearing a set of petitions calling the Aadhaar scheme a gross violation of an individual’s fundamental right to privacy.

Rakesh Dwivedi, senior advocate appearing for UIDAI, countered the judge’s view and submitted that the algorithm used by UIDAI for Aadhaar was different from the one used by Google or Cambridge Analytica. He cautioned the judges from being prejudiced by what happened in the case of Cambridge Analytica, which accessed the data of Facebook users.

“UIDAI is using matching algorithm. We cannot compare ourselves with Google using learning algorithm, meant for Artificial Intelligence. Aadhaar’s algorithm is restricted to duplication and authentication. The law does not allow UIDAI to carry out analysis of the data nor does the algorithm allow it do so,” Dwivedi submitted.

“Institutions like Google do not want Aadhaar to succeed in India. I want people of the country to trust me (UIDAI). I don’t want scaremongers to succeed. I want to assure my citizens that Aadhaar information is safe,” the lawyer said.

The senior counsel also said that smart card companies with commercial interests do not want Aadhaar to succeed. “Smart card companies have entrenched interest in Europe. If the Indian experiment (of Aadhaar) succeeds, then smart cards are gone. Singapore has already moved to biometric based identity cards,” Dwivedi contended.

An email sent to Google hadn’t elicited a response as of press time.

Justice Chandrachud said the court was concerned with the “potential interface of data available with the outside world. A big entity is controlling the data. And that is why we are trying to see the nature of safeguards that can be introduced.”

Dwivedi remarked that there are limitations of knowledge and technological development, to which Justice Chandrachud replied: “Limitations of knowledge cannot lead us to a blinkered view of reality because we are going to lay down a law which will affect the future generation of the country.”

Dwivedi told the court that contrary to apprehensions, it would be impossible for third parties to get Aadhaar details of an individual without the prior concurrence of UIDAI. He rebutted the petitioners’ claim that human beings are numbered under Aadhaar. “They are being identified with a numbers. This happens in all the services, for example bank accounts and even when you book air tickets,” he said.

On the concern that private organisations, such as banks and mobile phone companies, could misuse Aadhaar, Dwivedi said it was time for the top court to make private entities accountable. “Private entities are playing the role that only public entities played hitherto. All these private players are also based on public money,” he said.

Private entities that are part of the Aadhaar structure are under control, he said. “They are bound by the law. A mandamus (judicial writ) can be issued against them because they are performing public duty,” he said. Dwivedi would resume the arguments on Wednesday.

First Published: Apr 17, 2018 19:11 IST