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Don’t use us as a tool to link Aadhaar with phones, says Supreme Court

A five-judge bench, hearing a clutch of petitions challenging Aadhaar and its enabling 2016 law, said its order on a PIL filed by ‘Lokniti Foundation’ had said that mobile users needed to be verified in the interest of national security.

india Updated: Apr 25, 2018 23:47 IST
Bhadra Sinha
Bhadra Sinha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Supreme Court,Aadhaar,Aadhaar linking
A woman goes through the process of finger scanning for the Aadhaar card at a registration centre in New Delhi.(REUTERS)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday questioned the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for using an ostensible court directive as an excuse to order the linking of mobile phone numbers to Aadhaar unique identity numbers.

A Constitution bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra, which is hearing petitions challenging the validity of Aadhaar, told senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), that the apex court had only said verification of mobile phone users should be done in the interest of national security.

“In fact there was no such direction from the Supreme Court, but you took it and used it as a tool to make Aadhaar mandatory for mobile users,” Justice DY Chandrachud, a member of the bench, said.

“DoT notification says that Aadhaar-SIM (subscriber identity module) linking is being done on the directions of the Supreme Court, whereas there is no such direction,” the judge said.

Dwivedi explained that the Telegraph Act, which governs telecommunications, gave exclusive power to the Central government to decide license conditions of telecom service providers and re-verification of mobile numbers by using an e-KYC (know your customer) process.

When he justified the mandatory linking, the court said that the law empowered the government to enter into a contract with service providers and wondered how it could be used to impose conditions on customers. “Licence agreements are between the government and service providers,” Justice Chandrachud said.

In defence, Dwivedi clarified that the decision to seed mobile numbers with the 12-digit unique identity number was taken on a recommendation by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. Moreover, he said, the government is entitled to and has a legitimate interest in ensuring that a SIM card is given only to the person who applies for it.

“My submission is that the government had a legal basis to link Aadhaar with SIM by virtue of section 4 of the Telegraph Act and also, the measure is reasonable in the interest of national security,” the senior counsel said.

At the outset, he condemned petitioners challenging the Aadhaar scheme for unfairly targeting the unique identification system, saying telecom and credit card companies had collected more commercially exploitable data on citizens than UIDAI.

Dwivedi informed the court how he had posed a challenge on social media to gather data on him through his Aadhaar number. To his surprise, a man from the Netherlands responded, he said.

The man could not access any information on him through his Aadhaar data but retrieved some from an app available on the Google play store. The app, he told the bench, had his personal details, including the fees he charged from the Jammu and Kashmir government for appearing in a case. The bench was surprised at this disclosure.

Banks and telecom companies have a much “bigger data base” about citizens, Dwivedi said, adding, “For example, Vodafone has much a bigger data base of information even without Aadhaar. The Aadhaar data is immaterial for them.”

“Appreciate the fact as to how much information a bank possesses about its customers. Every transaction as to what I purchased by using cards, where and when, all these information are with banks. Aadhaar does not tell all this. These information are already there and being used for commercial purposes,” he said, adding that car-owners, for instance, start receiving numerous calls from insurers before their auto insurance expires.

“Google and Facebook process tremendous (amount of) data on a daily basis. UIDAI does not have that kind of algorithms,” he said.

Dwivedi concluded his arguments on behalf of UIDAI saying the data it collected was encrypted, held offline and the Aadhaar number is safer than smart cards because there is no chance of a data breach.

First Published: Apr 25, 2018 20:54 IST