Govt for legal bar on misuse & illegal collation of Aadhaar data

NEW DELHI: The government is willing to accept a legal bar on unauthorized collation and misuse of data linked to the Aadhaar identity of individuals even though the platform’s architecture and existing legislation prohibiting entities like banking and income tax authorities from sharing information linked to UIDs prevents the creation of a master data bank.

Marshalling its arguments as the Supreme Court considers privacy issues in the context of Aadhaar, the Centre is keen to point out that a “big brother” scenario of the government snooping on information regarding individual bank accounts, income tax, family members, expenditure and savings is ruled out by UID’s design as well as an SC order in a case where the authority itself contested the CBI’s request for biometric details.

At present the Aadhaar website offers even less information than the Election Commission portal where basic information about an individual’s name and constituency can reveal details. The Aadhaar portal provides, on entering the enrolment number, only the demographics of the concerned individual accessing the site. The Aadhaar server makes no attempt to collate information that in any case lies in other government or private servers.

Aadhaar information to establish identity is disclosed on the request of an individual when she seeks access to a service and even so biometric details are not revealed. An Aadhaar check while opening a bank account can only reveal the number of accounts an individual holds but no detail about its operation. It can help detect if a loan or overdraft an individual is claiming has already been sought by the same person through another account – a function that reduces fraud and leakages.

Aadhaar is key to the plans of the Centre and states to deliver pro-poor and citizen oriented services and is not in conflict with privacy concerns that the programme is willing to acknowledge and protect. If the SC were to seek guarantees on privacy, the government is willing to provide an undertaking as it acknowledges that this is valid concern, sources said.

In a 2013 SC ruling, the UID authority won a legal battle with the CBI over revealing an individual’s biometric details after losing at the Goa high court where it had challenged a lower court order directing it to supply the information. UID resisted the CBI’s request and the court order and the final SC ruling clearly states that the biometric information will not be shared with anyone and this remains the current law.

Accessing information contained in discrete servers with banks, government departments or income tax authorities is not feasible as each has rules and legal obligations on handling such data. A bank will reveal information only on a court order or a criminal investigation. Accessing data from different servers and putting it together is a task that faces logistical and legal barriers that a government or official can attempt only at the risk of violating the law.

If Aadhaar can theoretically provide a path to collating and consolidating information, the PAN system that is utilized in applications for driving licenses, passports, ration cards and housing registration can in any case be used for a similar purpose. The deterrent, as pointed out by commentators, is the specific acts that protect privacy.