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A bill has been introduced in the Lok Sabha on January 2 by the Narendra Modi government to amend various laws in the Aadhaar bill in a move to curtail the biometric authentication programme of the country. The bill seeks to allow people to offer voluntarily biometric ID, Aadhaar as a means of availing certain services like opening a bank account or getting a new phone connection. It also gives a child an option to opt out of the scheme upon attaining the age of 18 years, reported The Economic Times.
The Aadhaar And Other Laws (Amendment) Bill 2018 has amendments that have to be passed in order to comply with the aspects of the judgements of the Supreme Court. The bill was passed two weeks ago by the cabinet, and information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad introduced it in the Lok Sabha.
There are various aspects of the Supreme Court’s judgement, including provisions to make the biometric scheme voluntary, clauses to let the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) function more effectively, and to allow one to cancel Aadhaar numbers when they turn 18.
However, two proposed amendments to the Telegraph Act and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act turned out to be the most controversial. By these amendments, banks and telecom operators can continue to use voluntary Aadhaar authentication in order to link Aadhaar numbers to Mobile SIM cards and bank accounts, reported The Wire.
According to privacy advocates and critics, these amendments are in contravention of the judgement of the Apex Court. “The Supreme Court…. explicitly prohibited use of Aadhaar by private parties by declaring Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act, 2016, as unconstitutional. This section provided grounds for Aadhaar-based authentication by private entities as well,” a statement by Rethink Aadhaar said. A non-partisan campaign, Rethink Aadhaar is critical of the UID project.
Opposition parties sharply criticised Prasad after the bill was introduced by him in the Lok Sabha.
Further, Rethink Aadhaar added that amendments proposed by the bill to the Aadhaar Act, Telegraph Act and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act will bypass the Apex Court judgement, and will fail to disallow private entities from using Aadhaar-based e-KYC authentication for mobile and banking services. According to Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, this bill will allow a private organisation to gather Aadhaar details and that would lead to the right to privacy being violated.
The opposition also criticized the introduction of the bill saying that it was in violation of the Supreme Court verdict. TMC’s Saugata Roy said, “This Bill is outside the legislative purview of the House, in that it violates the Supreme Court judgement,” reported India Today.
To several clauses, the bill adds the word ‘voluntary’. For example, considering the Telegraph Act, a sub-section added to it notes that for the usage of Aadhaar for identification is going to be a “voluntary choice of the person who is sought to be identified and no person shall be denied any service for not having an Aadhaar number”.
However, critics argue that this is dishonest or duplicitous as ‘voluntary’ Aadhaar usage in several parts of the country can often mean that providing an Aadhaar number is the fastest and easiest way to get a job done. Also, as the government has the right to make Aadhaar mandatory for any service’s provision, Aadhaar cannot be fully called ‘voluntary’.
Another huge change was the amendment of the Telegraph and PMLA Acts, which led to the conclusion that Aadhaar authentication could not be carried out by any private entity, which, according to legal experts, was the destruction of ‘e-KYC’ or electronic-Know-Your-Customer technology. The bill, however, amends the act to ‘provide for the use of Aadhaar authentication’. Now, Aadhaar can be linked by banks and telecom operators to mobile SIM cards and bank accounts on a ‘voluntary basis’, and provided that other modes of identification are also allowed.
The bill legalises ‘offline’ verification. These methods, which include QR codes, do not require any kind of Aadhaar authentication.
Further, the bill regulates entities in the Aadhaar eco-system, allowing authentication by entities “only when they are compliant with the standards of privacy and security specified”. Lastly, the bill allows children to delete their Aadhaar numbers. The Supreme Court allows children who hold Aadhaar numbers to cancel them when they become 18 years of age. However, despite all the criticism for either the right or wrong reasons, it is hoped that the amendments will bring about a good change.
The Supreme Court on September 26 gave its much-awaited judgement on the controversial issue of the constitutional validity of Aadhaar. Previously in January 2018, a five-judge bench of the apex court began a fresh hearing on the Aadhaar case which went on to become the second-longest running hearing in the history of the Supreme Court – spanning 38 working days and nearly five months.
A five-judge Supreme Court bench on September 26 upheld the constitutional validity of Aadhaar, however, it has struck down multiple sections of the Aadhaar Act as unconstitutional. Justice AK Sikri while reading the judgement said, “Aadhaar gives dignity to the marginalised. Dignity to the marginalised outweighs privacy.” He also observed that Aadhaar fails only 0.232% and dismantling it now would mean disturbing 99% of the population who have already been enrolled.
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