Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pushing Indians to link their digital IDs to a host of services such as credit cards and cellphones, even as the Supreme Court will decide on Friday the scope of the world’s largest biometric database.
Almost 1 billion people had signed up for the program before a landmark privacy ruling in August strengthened the case against making the Aadhaar ID mandatory. The court will now decide on the validity of the government’s order to meet specified deadlines. Last month, it told banks and utilities to stop scaring customers after people complained about a barrage of emails and text messages warning of frozen accounts and invalidated sim cards if they failed to comply with the government’s push.
“Instances of the exclusion of genuine beneficiaries and the public disclosure of Aadhaar numbers make it clear that significant room exists for instituting more substantive privacy protections and grievance redressal mechanisms,” said Saksham Khosla, an analyst at Carnegie India. “The Supreme Court can mandate critical safeguards.”
Aadhaar is a unique 12-digit number assigned to Indian residents, backed by their fingerprints, iris scans and certain demographic details. Some lawyers and activists, such as Shyam Divan, say that once linked to various services it will offer the government a web of information about each individual that will violate the person’s privacy.
“The Aadhaar Act purports to provide legal sanction to a program that lays the framework for real time surveillance of every Indian,” Divan said.
The Supreme Court will announce its order on Friday and the final hearing on the legality of the Aadhaar program will start Jan. 10. Attorney General K.K. Venugopal agreed to extend to March 31 the deadline for linking Aadhaar to all services, except new bank accounts and mobile phones.
Indians are mandated to link their Aadhaar to:
- Government-issued Permanent Account Numbers, which help track tax filings
- Bank accounts, credit cards, insurance policies, mutual funds, pension plans
- Social welfare benefits such as cooking gas subsidies
- Mobile numbers