India’s Supreme Court reins in citizen profiling

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In a sharp rebuke to India’s civil libertarians, the country’s Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional validity of the biometric-based national identification platform called aadhaar that is widely viewed to be a tool of mass surveillance.

Though in its majority verdict (with one judge completely dissenting), the five-judge constitutional bench of the apex court did reduce the scope of aadhaar’s application, an outright striking down of this personal data gathering medium would have grossly discomfited the Narendra Modi government.

Prime Minister Modi had put his personal weight behind aadhaar and had his rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government push the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, benefits and services) Act, 2016, through Parliament in March 2016. Modi had vigorously contested the ID platform ever since it was first mooted in 2010 by the previous Congress-led government, saying it violated one’s “constitutional right to privacy”, but changed his stance once he became Prime Minister in May 2014. An adverse verdict would have complicated his campaign for the 2019 general elections, his government having already enrolled 1.22 billion aadhaar holders, 91 per cent of India’s overall population of 1.34 billion.

While aadhaar was originally conceived as a means to provide efficient access to government welfare schemes meant largely for the underprivileged, the BJP government made it mandatory for accessing a host of services like opening and operating bank accounts, filing Income Tax returns, and for applying for cellphone services, passports, driving licences, house subsidy, school admissions, death certificates, train tickets, and even for supplementary meals at crèches and maternity benefits. Besides, permanent account number (PAN) cards, required for all banking services, would be unacceptable unless linked to aadhaar…Click here to read full article.

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