Govt needs to strike a balance while using Aadhaar data, observes SC

Updated on Jan 24, 2018 11:05 PM IST

A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said the state should use the data if there was legitimate need, but not for aspects that violate one’s privacy.

A view of Supreme Court in New Delhi.(Sonu Mehta/HT File Photo)
A view of Supreme Court in New Delhi.(Sonu Mehta/HT File Photo)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By

There is a need to strike a balance between an individual’s right to privacy and the government’s responsibilities as far as use of Aadhaar data is concerned, the Supreme Court observed as it continued to hear 28 petitions challenging the controversial legislation on Wednesday.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said the state should use the data if there was legitimate need, but not for aspects that violate one’s privacy. “I should have no concern if the government wants to see if I am paying taxes. But if I’m going to a restaurant with my wife, there is no reason for the state to know that,” remarked justice DY Chandrachud, one of the judges. “So, the question is: Should we not make a distinction between collection of data and its utilisation? Yes, it should not be used for things that fall strictly in the private realm.”

The court made these oral observations while hearing senior advocate Shyam Divan, the lawyer of one of the petitioners, in court.

Justice Chandrachud, however, admitted that there are certain areas in the private realm where the government may need the data to deal with issues such as terror, money laundering and public welfare services. “Concerns of privacy must be balanced with concerns of what it should not be used for,” he reiterated when Divan argued that Aadhaar enforcement could end up creating a surveillance state.

The lawyer alleged that the “architecture of the programme” was unconstitutional because it enables real-time surveillance, and raised concerns regarding the theft of fingerprint data during its collection. He also pointed out that the technology used to store the biometric data was owned by foreign entities.

This argument spurred Justice Chandrachud to ask the petitioners whether they suspected the Centre’s motives. “Are we not second-guessing the executive government of the day by raising such concerns? You cannot be oblivious to the fact that this collection began in 2009, not 2014,” he said.

The judge also wondered whether the security issues raised before the court fell within the scope of judicial review. “Even the Pentagon (the headquarters of the US department of defence) is not safe. No system is safe. Are we not transgressing here?” Justice Chandrachud asked Divan.

The judge pointed out that Indian citizens seemed open to the prospect of sharing their data with private companies. “Aren’t we comfortable using Google Maps to travel to Jaipur? Then what’s the problem if the government has your data?” he asked.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Bhadra is a legal correspondent and reports Supreme Court proceedings, besides writing on legal issues. A law graduate, Bhadra has extensively covered trial of high-profile criminal cases. She has had a short stint as a crime reporter too.

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