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Twelve Digit Password To Unlock Privacy?

Over time, the legal framework around the right to privacy changed. Since 1800, when the British were in charge of India, the idea of a right to privacy has been there.

Right to Privacy has many developments. The first judgment of the Supreme Court on right to privacy was that it is not a fundamental right. (M P Sharma v. Satish Chandra)

After 9 years since the M.P. Sharma case, Justice Subba Rao's dissenting opinion in Kharak Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh, which addressed the right to privacy, proved to be a bright spot. Although the right to privacy has not been named a basic right by the constitution, he asserted that it is nevertheless a crucial aspect of human liberty.

A three-judge panel of the supreme court ruled in the case of Govind v. State of Madhya Pradesh that the right to privacy is protected by the basic right guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. (Article 21 discusses the preservation of life and individual freedom)

In 2018, there was a significant development in the Right to Privacy, because of the case of Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd) vs Union of India.

The Aadhaar Case

An exclusive identifying number with twelve digits called Aadhaar is given to Indian residents by the national government. Every citizen of India has their information, including demographic and biometric information, recorded and verified by Aadhaar. It is regarded as an identity card.

There was a bill introduced in 2016, named The Aadhaar Act. It has some sections which were an encroachment on the Right to Privacy.

The main issues in The Aadhaar Act, 2016 were violating the right to privacy:
  1. Allowing commercial agencies to utilize Aadhaar violates the Bill's stated goals and objectives.
  2. Sharing Aadhaar-collected information.
  3. Information disclosure to intelligence or law enforcement authorities.
  4. Possibility of profiling persons.
  5. The UID authority has the exclusive ability to file complaints.
  6. Personal information gathering.
  7. Ambiguity in biometric information specification.
  8. The time frame for keeping authentication records.

A case was filed against the Act. (Case name - Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd) vs Union of India).
There were 3 main issues discussed in the Supreme court:
  1. Was the Aadhaar Act, which was passed by Parliament as a Money Bill, legal?
  2. Does keeping a record of biometric information goes against the right to privacy?
  3. Does it violate the rights to equality and dignity to make Aadhaar essential for receiving subsidies and benefits under Section 7?

Here, we will only talk about the 2nd issue which is regarding the Right to Privacy.

There Are Two Main Points Regarding The Right To Privacy In The Judgment:
  1. Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act, 2016 was struck down and was held unconstitutional as Section 57 allowed private entities to collect citizens' Aadhaar details. This Supreme Court stopped private entities to take the information of the citizens.
  2. In addition, the Supreme Court invalidated the law's National Security Exception. By limiting government access to the data, the government was able to indirectly increase the privacy of an individual's Aadhaar information.
The "just, fair, and reasonable criteria" served as the foundation for the judgment's Majority Opinion.

As per the majority, the court uses Article 19 for the Reasonable restriction. The majority also dismissed all the arguments regarding the surveillance state. Their view in this was that there is a minimal collection of biometrics as they see Aadhaar not collect data like transaction, location, and purpose.

The panel determined that only individuals with a reasonable expectation of privacy are protected by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and that not all matters relating to an individual are covered by the right to privacy.

The dissenting decision by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud was very fierce in that he held that the Aadhaar act is unconstitutional.

His main observation was fear of infringement of privacy.

He said that it is now difficult to live in India without Aadhaar, but that doing so violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. He noted that if the Aadhaar is seeded with every other database, there is a high risk of privacy violations.

Even after all of this the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2019 was issued which allowed banks and telecom operators to collect Aadhaar details as proof of identity.

It is a case of contradiction and risk. Aadhaar is still violating the right to privacy after the ordinance as it gave telecom operators and banks to take data from Aadhar. I agree with the decision of the court in the case of Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd) vs Union of India. Their judgment stops most privacy infringements of Aadhar.

The dissenting decision by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud had an observation that it is now difficult to live without Aadhar. In my opinion, the observation is true. Even if there is an against stand regarding the ordinance which states Aadhar details to be shared with banks and telecom operators, it has made the opening of bank accounts and buying sims easy, quick and hassle-free. It allows your information to flow smoothly and verification of your details very quickly.

The fear of infringement will be there in citizens but to remove the fear, the government should first give the citizens a sense of safety and it can only be done by creating a structure of safety around the information.

I think the answer for 'Is the UID a password to unlock our privacy?' is Yes but can be turned to No if a sense of security and transparency can be given by the government.

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