A bil­lion In­dian iden­ti­ties and more at stake in pri­vacy case

Muscat Daily - - WORLD -

Ben­galuru, In­dia - In­dia’s top court is con­sid­er­ing whether pri­vacy is a fun­da­men­tal right of every cit­i­zen in a case that could have im­pli­ca­tions for the coun­try’s bio­met­ric iden­tity pro­gramme and a slew of global tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies.

Ac­tivists, lawyers and politi­cians have chal­lenged the gov­ern­ment over the le­gal ba­sis of the pro­gramme known as Aad­haar, with the Supreme Court in New Delhi to de­cide if the sys- tem should be thrown out or mod­i­fied.

Con­ceived as a way to curb the si­phon­ing off of wel­fare meant for the poor, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi has pushed the sys­tem’s adop­tion into uses span­ning buy­ing a phone, get­ting util­i­ties con­nected or con­duct­ing fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions on­line. Any changes could im­pact com­pa­nies from Mi­crosoft Corp to Sam­sung Elec­tron­ics Co, which have in­te­grated Aad­haar into their prod­ucts, while a new in­ter­pre­ta­tion of pri­vacy can af­fect Google and Face­book Inc.

Some crit­ics want to limit Aad­haar to spe­cific pur­poses so that per­sonal data and in­for­ma­tion col­lected by the gov­ern­ment doesn’t go into a cen­tral data­base that can then be leaked or used else­where.

“My sur­ren­der of a fin­ger­print to un­lock my iPhone is not for any­thing else ex­cept open­ing my iPhone,” said lawyer Sa­jan Poovayya, who rep­re­sents law­maker and en­tre­pre­neur Ra­jeev Chan­drasekhar, one of the pe­ti­tion­ers.

Un­der Aad­haar, which means foun­da­tion in Hindi, the unique ID author­ity has spent seven years col­lect­ing fin­ger­prints and iris and fa­cial scans, as well as ad­dresses, phone num­bers and per­sonal de­tails of more than 1.1bn cit­i­zens. The data of each per­son is tagged to a unique 12digit iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­ber.

In In­dia, any­thing con­sid­ered a ‘fun­da­men­tal right’ has con­sti­tu­tional pro­tec­tion and can’t be taken away ex­cept un­der a few rare ex­cep­tions such as na­tional se­cu­rity. The gov­ern­ment has main­tained that pri­vacy is not a fun­da­men­tal right and an in­di­vid­ual’s right to their body isn’t ab­so­lute.

Dur­ing three days of ar­gu­ments, some judges have ques­tioned how pri­vacy could be en­forced as a fun­da­men­tal right when Google and Face­book ex­ten­sively col­lect user data.

“When one can share per­sonal data with pri­vate play­ers like Ap­ple, why not share it with the gov­ern­ment? What’s the dif­fer­ence?” Jus­tice D Y Chan­drachud of the nine-judge panel asked dur­ing the hear­ing.

“The mo­ment you want to travel from Mum­bai to Delhi, you will get 100 sug­ges­tions. Your pri­vate and per­sonal data is in pri­vate hands, so is there any- thing qual­i­ta­tively dif­fer­ent when the state has it?”

Poovayya re­sponded that just be­cause a pri­vate com­pany has ac­cess to an in­di­vid­ual’s data, or it is in the pub­lic do­main, it isn’t an ar­gu­ment against a right to pri­vacy.

The hear­ings will con­tinue this week, when the gov­ern­ment will present its side of the case, with a rul­ing ex­pected in sub­se­quent weeks.

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