Aadhaar more secure than social media apps and phones, centre to Supreme Court

NEW DELHI: Aadhaar is far more secure in ensuring privacy than some social media apps and mobile phones in today’s digital world, the government told the Supreme Court, as it wants the top court to permit wider use of the databank containing citizens’ biometric information.

The court has so far permitted “voluntary” use of the Aadhaar identification number allotted to citizens only for the purpose of dispensing LPG, kerosene and PDS subsidies. The government wants to use Aadhaar for the purpose of authenticating the identity of citizens in banks, stock markets and for availing of services.

Critics of Aadhaar say it is inherently intrusive of the citizen’s right to privacy. A three-judge SC bench had disallowed any further use of Aadhaar, while referring the issue of the legality of a scheme to a larger bench. The government then moved a plea for vacating that stay.

On Wednesday, when the proceedings got underway before a bench comprising Chief Justice HL Dattu and Justices MY Eqbal, C Nagappan, Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi indicated the government’s determination to use Aadhaar in several areas. “How can a scheme in which 92 crore people have enrolled be stopped for one or two objecting to it,” he asked.

Aadhaar would be used on a purely voluntary basis for authentication purposes, he said, citing the example of millions of illiterate and poor who have no other identity card and would like to avail of bank services such as the Prime Minister’s Jan-Dhan Yojana.

“All of us have mobile phones which give away our location even when they are switched off. No one can say we have absolute privacy. Any information can be accessed through apps such as WhatsApp, owned by Facebook which has its server in the US, and is obligated to share all such information with the US government for national security,” he said, indicating the irrelevance of privacy considerations in a digital world.

In contrast, he insisted, the Aadhaar system, which assigns every citizen a unique identification number on the basis of his biometric information, is far more secure. Not only is it voluntary, no information can be shared with any other government agency without the person’s nod. A citizen also has the right to lock or opt out of his Aadhaar scheme.

“Authentication is not by any human interface. It is virtual,” he said. He also disclaimed any possibility of the state acting like big brother and snooping on citizens and trialing them.

“The information collected by the Unique Identification Authority of India will not be shared with anyone except under court orders,” he said. “If it can be used on a voluntary basis why can’t it be used in all beneficial schemes,” he asked. Justice Roy asked how the voluntary nature of the scheme sat well with the government insistence on it in several schemes. Justice Eqbal sought to know if it would be voluntary in practice.

Senior lawyer Shyam Divan, appearing for some opponents of the scheme, argued against allowing expanded use of Aadhaar-based identification.