Written By Joshita Pai
The 5 judge bench this afternoon commenced with the Aadhaar hearing after reference from the Supreme Court on the issues of existence of privacy as a constitutional right and on clarifications of the interim order issued on 11th of August. The bench seemed determined to focus on the clarification issue and the as the beginning of the proceedings, the CJI stated with particular regard to the privacy issue that he has not concluded what bench can be constituted to determine the question.
Mr. Shyam Divan, Senior Advocate insisted on delivering preliminary findings concerning privacy and in the latter part of the hearing, he introduced the subject again and threw considerable light on the previous orders issued by the Court in the matter. The Attorney General’s arguments primarily were based on firstly, the authentic nature of Aadhaar cards; secondly, on the non-viability of procurement of other identity cards such as PAN cards and driving license by the poorest of the poor, thirdly, that 92 crores of the population has already enrolled for Aadhar; fourthly, that the Aadhaar project is centred around a social welfare scheme, finally, on the premise that the card does not contain the biometric information and only displays the unique identification number.
Referring to the Big Brother concerns, the AG asserted that communication on WhatsApp can be snooped into by Facebook. Whatsapp however, in the light of the recent encryption debacle had assured that the encryption keys loaded at the time of sending a message by a particular user can be read in readable format only by the targeted receiver. Certainly, doubts galore the credibility of such end to end encryption. Moreover, commercial use of data is a tangential concept to surveillance and maintenance of database by the Government.
Delving upon the 92 crores Aadhar card holders, the bench asked the AG if he ruled out the possibility that these many people volunteered for aadhar since that would be their only means to access the proposed schemes. The Court, referring to the interim orders sought clarification w.r.t. the voluntary nature of Aadhaar post those orders. The advocates for the string of defendants reinstated that for all schemes outside PDS and LPG, it has been voluntary and insisted that they wish to resume schemes since they are attached to Aadhar.
Arguing for the petitioners, Mr. Shyam Divan reintroduced privacy concerns and stressed upon how the issue can not be looked into in isolation since the basis for Aadhar is built on collection of biometric information and fingerprinting which has been conducted in the absence of any statutory backing or in the least, issuance of a circular. He also mentioned that the enrollment form does not contain the requirement of supplying biometric data. He read out the interim order issued by the Court on August 11th and stated that there was no notice served to the petitioners from the Centre stating that its challenging the Court order.
The bench intermittently expressed concerns about how the order would be carried out since post clarifications by the constitutional bench of the 11th August order, the same would be referred back to the 3 judge bench. The Court will begin by looking into the interim order issued by the court last week in the next hearing, which is scheduled for 2 pm tomorrow.