In­dian court up­holds le­gal­ity of world’s largest bio­met­ric data­base

The Miracle - - National & Int - Source: dawn.com

In­dia’s top court on Wed­nes­day up­held the le­gal­ity of the gov­ern­ment’s Aad­haar na­tional iden­tity project, the world’s largest bio­met­ric data­base, but im­posed new restric­tions on how the per­sonal de­tails of more than one bil­lion cit­i­zens can be used. The rul­ing by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court draws a line un­der many years of le­gal chal­lenges from crit­ics, who said Aad­haar threat­ened in­di­vid­ual pri­vacy and risked turn­ing the world’s sec­ond-most pop­u­lous na­tion into a sur­veil­lance state. The gov­ern­ment had in­sisted Aad­haar, which is­sues ev­ery In­dian with a unique 12-digit ID linked to fin­ger­prints and iris scans, would stream­line wel­fare ser­vices and root out fraud. It was also pitched as a trans­par­ent way to en­sure that gov­ern­ment hand­outs of food, fuel and other es­sen­tials to In­dia’s poor­est would not be si­phoned off by cor­rupt mid­dle­men, a huge prob­lem in the vast coun­try of 1.25bn. In its rul­ing the Supreme Court up­held the le­gal­ity of the scheme, say­ing the ben­e­fits far out­weighed any risks. The judges ruled that any­body draw­ing on gov­ern­ment ser­vices — from fil­ing tax re­turns to ac­cess­ing pen­sions or wel­fare — would by law re­quire an Aad­haar num­ber. But the bench said cor­po­ra­tions could not in­sist that In­di­ans pro­vide their unique ID to regis­ter for ser­vices such as phone num­bers — a key com­plaint from pri­vacy ad­vo­cates who say Aad­haar had gone too far. The scheme was rolled out un­der the pre­vi­ous Congress Party gov­ern­ment in 2010 but grew in scope un­der In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, whose Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept to power in 2014. Ini­tially a vol­un­tary pro­gramme, it soon be­came manda­tory for those wish­ing to ac­cess gov­ern­ment ser­vices, in­clud­ing even school­child­ren want­ing free lunches pro­vided by the state. The court, in its land­mark rul­ing, also said chil­dren would not need Aad­haar to en­rol in school since a right to ed­u­ca­tion was fun­da­men­tal to all In­di­ans. The gov­ern­ment went to the Supreme Court last year to ar­gue that In­di­ans did not have a fun­da­men­tal right to pri­vacy — a case linked to Aad­haar that it lost. The Supreme Court in Jan­uary be­gan hear­ing a series of chal­lenges to the con­sti­tu­tional va­lid­ity of Aad­haar, a Hindi word mean­ing “foun­da­tion”.

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