Wrong call

Tele­com com­pa­nies should stop ask­ing sub­scribers to pro­vide Aad­haar de­tails

The Hindu Business Line - - THINK -

Cit­ing a March 23, 2017, DoT or­der ask­ing for “e-KYC ver­i­fi­ca­tion of all sub­scribers”, tele­com com­pa­nies have been bad­ger­ing sub­scribers to cough up their Aad­haar num­bers if they want their phone ser­vices to con­tinue. This in­sis­tence can be ques­tioned on many grounds. First, it is be­wil­der­ing that both the Gov­ern­ment and the in­dus­try should be de­mand­ing Aad­haar data when the Supreme Court is yet to de­cide on whether Aad­haar can be made manda­tory for pur­poses that go beyond the im­ple­men­ta­tion of wel­fare schemes — the re­mit of the Aad­haar (Tar­geted De­liv­ery of Fi­nan­cial and Other Sub­si­dies, Ben­e­fits and Ser­vices) Act 2016. Fol­low­ing a slew of pe­ti­tions chal­leng­ing the cen­tral­ity of Aad­haar in nu­mer­ous pro­grammes, the Supreme Court, on Mon­day, de­cided to set up a three-mem­ber Con­sti­tu­tion bench which will be­gin hear­ings later in Novem­ber. Aad­haar has im­plic­itly come un­der the scan­ner af­ter the Supreme Court’s land­mark rul­ing in Au­gust, declar­ing pri­vacy a fun­da­men­tal right. Sec­ond, if our pri­vate de­tails, in­clud­ing phone num­bers, are al­ready float­ing in the pub­lic do­main with­out our con­sent, the tele­com in­dus­try must take some of the blame. In this con­text, their de­mand for the Aad­haar num­ber with­out any as­sur­ance that this will be pro­tected, does not in­spire con­fi­dence. Third, the Aad­haar Act does not pro­vide for the bio­met­ric data to re­side with any party other than the state. There­fore, if sub­scribers are to fur­nish their bio­met­ric de­tails each time they change a SIM card, it will not only come in the way of con­sumer free­dom but also com­pro­mise the se­cu­rity and pri­vacy of such data. Fourth, if tele­com com­pa­nies merely want to es­tab­lish the iden­tity and res­i­dence of the sub­scriber, it is not clear why they should pre­fer Aad­haar over other iden­tity doc­u­ments.

In view of re­ports of Aad­haar-re­lated scams, such as a pen­sioner’s funds be­ing di­verted in Hy­der­abad, it is time for the Cen­tre to re­con­sider whether Aad­haar is re­ally fool­proof; this is even as Aad­haar’s uses in tar­geted de­liv­ery are un­de­ni­able. The repli­ca­tion of bio­met­rics seems to be tak­ing place al­ready. There­fore, the cus­tomer must be given the op­tion of fur­nish­ing the iden­tity proof of her choice.

Even as the apex court is yet to take a call, the in­dus­try’s de­mand prima fa­cie does not seem to sit well with the spirit of the pri­vacy rul­ing, ear­lier rul­ings of the apex court on Aad­haar, and with the 2016 Aad­haar law. On Oc­to­ber 15, 2015, the Supreme Court said that “the Aad­haar card scheme is purely vol­un­tary and it can­not be made manda­tory till the mat­ter is fi­nally de­cided by this Court one way or the other”. This point was re­it­er­ated in its June 7, 2017 rul­ing on a pe­ti­tion that ques­tioned the manda­tory use of Aad­haar for fil­ing tax re­turns. Given this un­cer­tainty, the DoT should re­voke its or­der and wait for the court to de­cide on the sta­tus of Aad­haar.

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