NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday said apprehensions of profiling of citizens on the basis of Aadhaar data is a serious issue that needs examination but the court also cannot neglect benefits to the common man by way of middlemen being eliminated and welfare schemes reaching the beneficiaries.
“Profiling is a very serious issue and we have to engage our mind on that aspect. But equally important is that the government has been able to provide benefits to communities under the scheme. It allows doorstep delivery of services and benefits to people,” Justice D Y Chandrachud, who is part of a five-judge Constitution bench, said during the ongoing hearings related to pleas challenging the scheme.
Praising Aadhaar for providing citizen-centric services and social benefits, the Supreme Court said it could not neglect the advantage of the scheme while deciding its constitutional validity. It, however, expressed concern over private entities being allowed to use the Aadhaar platform and misuse data for profiling individuals, an issue on which, it said, the Centre had to satisfy the court.
As senior advocate Shyam Divan termed Aadhaar as an “architecture of digital dictatorship” under which the state will be able to keep track of movements of its citizens and maintain constant surveillance, the bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan demurred, observing that linking it to mass surveillance was “like stretching too much”.
Divan responded that there was a genuine apprehension that Aadhaar data could be aggregated to profile individuals in what will be violative of the right to privacy. He said with the government and private entities making Aadhaar mandatory, profiling will be an easy task after collecting data pertaining to the use of the ID.
“My point is not that it is tracking but the architecture can be misused in future for tracking and profiling of people. We are living in a democracy and profiling cannot be allowed. The state cannot be allowed to aggregate the data, which could be used to track people. It cannot be allowed even if it is for the purpose of providing them benefits like health and education,” he said.
“There is nothing wrong in aggregation for limited purpose for providing subsidies, scholarships and benefits under MGNREGA. Will it not pass the test? But the larger aggregation of data could not be allowed. The government has told us the benefits of Aadhaar in weeding out fake beneficiaries of welfare schemes and it is not possible for the court to ignore it. How to maintain proportionality?” Justice Chandrachud asked.
“If you have an I-phone in your pocket, then your movements could be easily tracked. Your whereabouts could be also known if you use ATM card. We are all living in a highly networked world,” the bench said. Justice Chandrachud also referred to the World Bank report appreciating the Aadhaar scheme
Divan, however, said that constitutional validity of a scheme could not be judged by World Bank reports and articles published in foreign journals and told the bench to consider reports in local journals pointing out how governments had failed in providing relief to farmers who are dying.
The bench said, “This is the positive aspect of Aadhaar. At least we have a citizen-centric delivery of services. There are some problems with Aadhaar and the government has to explain on it, including how can it be allowed to be used by private entities. We need to see which are the areas of concern and we will examine it,” the bench said.