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Supreme Court verdict on Aadhaar may hit security regime

The reading down of the national security provision in the Aadhaar Act by the Supreme Court may have serious implications for the phone and computer data interception and decryption regime, said central security officials.

india Updated: Sep 26, 2018 23:11 IST
Rajesh Ahuja
Rajesh Ahuja
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Supreme Court,Aadhaar,security
In a majority judgment, the Supreme Court struck down section 33 (2) of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act of 2016. (Sonu Mehta/HT Photo)

The reading down of the national security provision in the Aadhaar Act by the Supreme Court may have serious implications for the phone and computer data interception and decryption regime, said central security officials.

In a majority judgment, the SC struck down section 33 (2) of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act of 2016. Section 33 (2) allowed disclosure of “information, including identity information or authentication records” on the direction of officer of the rank of joint secretary and above in case of national security.

The court said the government may bring back the section if it provides the power to an officer higher than the rank of joint secretary with a rider that a judicial officer, who can be a sitting high court judge, is associated with the exercise. The SC still allowed disclosure of such information if an order is passed by a court not inferior to that of a district judge but only after giving an opportunity of hearing to the individual concerned.

“The court has taken back the power from the executive branch and provided it to the judiciary with a safeguard of giving right to be heard to the individual. But under the section 5 (2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, a designated officer still enjoys the power to issue directions to intercept or detain transmission in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of the country,” said a central security official on the condition of anonymity.

Section 69 of the IT Act again provides the power to issue directions for interception or monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource to a designated officer of the government.

“Privacy activists can now challenge these two executive powers saying the constitutional bench has set the bar higher in case of Aadhaar data,” added the official. Cyber law expert advocate Pavan Duggal said the matter was related to the larger issue of privacy and if the SC asked for judicial review for disclosure of the Aadhaar data, the same standard should be applied to other data .

“I believe a door has been opened for challenging the executive powers in cases of phone and computer interception also.”

First Published: Sep 26, 2018 23:11 IST