NEW DELHI: Five years after the first petition was filed challenging the validity of Aadhaar, a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra will begin hearing the petitions against Aadhaar tomorrow. In August, a nine-judge Constitution Bench headed by then Chief Justice of India JS Khehar had ruled that privacy was a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution.
Now the government has to convince the Supreme Court that forcing citizens to give a sample of their fingerprints and iris scan does not violate privacy. The government can only place reasonable restrictions on limited grounds such as national sovereignty and security, public order, decency, etc, as specified in Article 19 (2) of the Constitution.
The petitioners are challenging the nature of information collected, which includes biometrics, and its alleged unlimited use by government agencies.
Meanwhile, the government has introduced a new two-layer security system to improve Aadhaar privacy. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has announced the creation of a “virtual ID” which can be used in lieu of the 12-digit Aadhaar number at the time of authentication for any service.
In order to provide more choice to citizens authenticating using Aadhaar, the UIDAI has introduced face authentication along with fingerprints and iris. This measure will be used in “fusion” along with existing modes of authenication such as fingerprints, iris and OTP (one-time-password). Implemented by July of this year, facial authentication is also expected to increase security by adding another layer of verification.
2017 saw several controversies and a lot of confusion on linking of the 12-digit Aadhaar number with various government services. Clarity was scarce as the government kept linking schemes to Aadhaar without making it mandatory as the Supreme Court admitted and heard petitions against the government.
The court had refused to put a freeze on Aadhaar linkages. As the status quo continued, the government increased the number of services linked to Aadhaar. The deadline for Aadhaar linkage to services such as Permanent Account Number, bank account and mobile phone number was extended to March 31, 2018.
If the court gives a go-ahead to the mandatory linkages of Aadhaar, it will become the most important identity proof for an Indian, the one number that opens all the government doors.