The ordinary citizen may feel more comfortable with a card now effectively reduced to being just an identity proof.
The constitutional validity of Aadhaar has been upheld, but it is to be seen now as a necessary evil to deal with government, which in effect is the crux of the landmark ruling by a majority of the five-judge Constitution Bench. The ultra-ambitious scheme of the executive, which wanted to use Aadhaar for mass surveillance if declared mandatory for everything — from bank accounts to mobile phone connections, school admissions, competitive exams and even birth and death — has been shot down. The Aadhaar Act has been eviscerated, with many provisions knocked down as unnecessary. The ordinary citizen may feel more comfortable with a card now effectively reduced to being just an identity proof. It is entirely possible for a person to not sign up for Aadhaar if he/she does not wish to avail of government benefits and doesn’t come under the category of needing a PAN card or having to file income-tax returns.
In upholding Aadhaar’s biometrics’ legality and its storage in a huge databank, most judges were satisfied with applicants having to surrender data. The sole dissenting judge, however, called it unconstitutional and addressed widespread concerns over the right to privacy. However, the striking down of Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act, that allowed private companies to demand Aadhaar as an identity check, means Indians can breathe easier. In not addressing what to do with the data already collected, the judgment may lead to people being out on a limb regarding the safety of the data in private hands and with banks.
The bulldozing way of collecting data for too many things, even as the Supreme Court was holding marathon hearings on Aadhaar’s validity and the right to privacy ever since a retired judge challenged the law, was the real culprit.
The ruling that Aadhaar is for Indian citizens and immigrants aren’t to be given the card upholds the sovereignty principle. It’s true the measure is in the interests of marginalised sections of society that need government benefits. Concern has been voiced over the robustness of the data in the hands of a behemoth scheme dealing with the data collected already of over 120 crore Indians. Instances like a Pakistani spy getting an Aadhaar card and the private data of Indian cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni being made public served as warnings of how insecure the handling of data had become. The balance of convenience did seem to favour putting together of this unique identity database, as four of the five judges noted in their two judgments, while overpowering use of provisions to railroad people and set up a surveillance society have been shown the door. The court even read down the section by which data could be shared with official agencies for upholding national security, but there is reason to doubt if this would not be breached by governments and their agencies.