Aadhaar debate: Privacy remains central challenge
Even as the Supreme Court gears up to deal with the issue of making Aadhaar Card mandatory for citizens – privacy has become central to the legal challenge facing Aadhaar, the 12-digit biometric unique identity number, raising data breach and privacy concerns.
In fact one of the first petition, by retired high Court judge KS Puttaswamy, challenging the government’s ambitious and controversial Aadhaar project was on the grounds that the project violated privacy rights of the citizens.
Although the government is making every effort towards the safety and security of biometric data, the recent incidents of leakage of people’s Aadhaar details have raised questions on data safety.
Private details of citizens have been leaked on government websites and from private bodies like banks, telecom operators, insurance providers and financial organisations.
According to a government reply in Parliament in June this year , more than 200 government websites published names of beneficiaries of welfare schemes with their addresses and Aadhaar numbers.
More recently, a hacker published data, including Aadhaar details of citizens, that affected over 6000 Indian organizations including Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), Reserve Bank of India, Bombay Stock Exchange, etc.
While, UIDAI dismissed the reports saying, the data allegedly leaked was already in the public domain and the information doesn’t provide any sensitive or confidential information about citizens.
However, critics are not buying the assurance from the UIDAI. They say the problem with Aadhaar data is that of accountability. In absence of a law that prescribes punishment in case of data leak, private and public agencies in India will not show diligence in handling of data.
India doesn’t have a separate law for protecting personal data, which at present is covered under the information technology act.
But the government recognizing the need for law recently constituted a committee under the Chairmanship of retired Supreme Court judge BN Srikrishna.
The Committee has been tasked with making suggestions that will protect personal information.
Armed with all this, the recent Supreme Court ruling making right to privacy a fundamental right and the absence of data protection law will make the going difficult for the government in the court.