New Delhi: A counsel for the Union government has told the country’s top court that details of the unique Aadhaar card may have reached the public domain from sources other than the authority storing the data, stoking concerns that the system protecting the citizens’ biometric information was far from foolproof.
“The leaks are from other government departments as they have trouble balancing transparency and data protection concerns. It is not from the UIDAI office,” the government’s counsel A Sengupta conceded before a Supreme Court bench comprising Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan.
The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is tasked with providing the citizens with a 12-digit identification number: The biometric and relevant identity details of a citizen are mapped to the number.
The Supreme Court bench is now hearing several petitions challenging the Centre’s recent move to link PAN (permanent account number) cards to the Aadhaar. Under a recent amendment to the law, PAN cards not linked to the Aadhaar would become invalid from July 1, 2017. This decision has been opposed, although the government has defended the move, arguing before the Supreme Court that linking the two instruments of identity would help restrict the country’s black economy and make tax-evasion difficult.
On Wednesday, the bench drew the government’s attention to fresh media reports on the alleged misuse of the Aadhaar details, and sought to know if the reports were true. “Today also there was a news report of data leakage: How far is it true?” Justice Sikri asked.
Those challenging the legality of the new law were quick to catch on to this concern that the system may not be foolproof. Regardless of the source of the data compromise, the lapse itself seriously impinges on a citizen’s right to privacy, senior advocate Shyam Divan told the Supreme Court during the hearing.
Divan, who has described as draconian the move to mandatorily link the two identity cards, also accused the government of perpetrating a fraud on the people, as the UIDAI says on its website that the linking of the two identity instruments is voluntary.
“Once the Aadhaar details are in the public domain, from the citizen’s standpoint, it is the state which is leaking…. It is a serious infraction and violation of my fundamental right. If my fingerprint goes to a third party, I am finished,” Divan said.