NINE months after the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the Aadhaar scheme, albeit with some curbs, the NDA government has tabled a Bill in the Lok Sabha to allow voluntary use of Aadhaar as a proof of identity for opening bank accounts and obtaining mobile phone connections. The proposed legislation will amend the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016. In consonance with the SC ruling, the Bill seeks deletion of the Act’s ‘unconstitutional’ Section 57 that permits private entities such as telecom companies to access Aadhaar data.
Over the past year and a half, the BJP-led government has been harping on the safety of the data stored on servers of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), particularly after The Tribune exposé revealed that the personal details of millions of citizens were at risk of being hacked or traded for a paltry price. Robust mechanisms have been put in place to ensure that the all-important data is not used by unscrupulous elements. These confidence-building measures have proved fruitful to some extent. The next logical step is to impose stiff penalties to deter private players from plundering the data. The Bill proposes that unauthorised use of identity information by a requesting entity or offline verification-seeking entity would be punishable with imprisonment of up to three years along with a fine. Punishment for unauthorised access to the Central Identities Data Repository as well as data tampering is sought to be extended to 10 years each from the current three years. All this looks promising on paper; it will all boil down to stringent enforcement.
Even as the Act is set to be amended, it is imperative that the right to privacy, upheld as a fundamental right by the apex court in its landmark judgment of August 2017, is not infringed upon. Foolproof checks and balances can play a vital role in this direction. It’s advisable to stick to Aadhaar’s original aim of serving public and national interest. This ambitious scheme should not be allowed to become a public nuisance.