The Apex court had upheld the validity of the Aadhaar (Targeted delivery of financial and other subsidies, benefits and services) Act, 2016 in the judgement of K.S. Puttaswamy II, decided in 2018.
The court deduced Aadhaar as a legitimate ‘reasonable restriction’ on the individual’s right to privacy barring certain provisions like use of Aadhaar ecosystem by private corporations, disclosure of personal information and cognisance offence. The Court held that the act doesn’t violate Art 14, 15, 19 and 21 of fundamental rights.
The bench comprised of Justice Sikri's majority opinion (on behalf of Chief Justice Misra, Justice Khanwilkar and himself), Justice Bhushan's concurring opinion and Justice Chandrachud's dissenting opinion.
Story behind the Aadhaar Case
In 2011, Government of India initiated a new identity document called as Aadhaar card for which established a new agency, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), to issue the card. It is a twelve-digit unique identity number, which was intended by the government to be the primary identification number for all legal residents of the country. For the application of the card, a resident must submit the scan of their fingerprints and retina. All the data are stored in a centralised data base.
Subsequently the government made Aadhaar mandatory for several welfare schemes such as subsidised food under Public Distribution System, Mid-day meal scheme and Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme etc.
That being said, this Aadhaar scheme was challenged by retired judge of Karnataka High Court K.S. Puttaswamy before the SC. Therefore, the primary question to be considered by the Apex Court was whether the provisions of the Act were contrary to right to privacy which has been established as a fundamental right sometime before.
In this regard, it is important to note that number of services provided by Government and private entities largely depended on individual linking their aadhaar for authentication which indirectly made every individual to mandatorily obtain Aadhaar number. Hence, the question was not so much that whether it was infringement but whether it was a reasonable exception to it or not.
Decision of the Apex Court
It was held that privacy cannot be impugned without a just, fair and reasonable law. This required existence of a law, which serves a legitimate state aim and is proportionate to the objective sought to be achieved. The court further clarified that the proportionality test includes the following four aspects:
- Legitimate Goal.
- Rational connection.
Thereafter court read down certain provisions of the Act which didn’t fulfil the above proportionality test. Apart from that, it was held that Aadhaar is a legitimate state aim and is proportionate, thereby being a reasonable exception to the right to privacy.
Some of the sections which were made unconstitutional were: -
- Section 57: Out of all most important was this section, wherein it permitted the use of Aadhaar for establishing identity for any purpose, by the state or any contract person, pursuant to any law or contract. The order stated that “any purpose” is susceptible to misuse and can only be a purpose backed by law. Then use by corporations would enable commercial exploitation of private data and hence is unconstitutional.
- Section 33(1): Disclosure of Aadhaar information in certain cases, such as pursuant to a court order. An individual whose information is sought to be released, must be given the opportunity of hearing and the right to challenge any such court order.
- Section 33(2): Restricts confidentiality of Aadhaar data in cases of national security if so determined by senior government officer (joint secretary). This means any breach of confidentiality can be done only on the orders of the very senior government officer along with a sitting HC judge.
- Section 47: Provided that only UIDAI can file complaint on the violation of the Act. The section was amended as to allow individual/ victim to file the complaint whose right is violated.
- Section 2(d): Pertained to the authentication record i.e. the record of the time of authentication, identity of the requesting entity and the response provided by UIDAI. The section was struck down and left to reframed keeping in mind the new parameters.
After discussing the struck down section, another important question was considered that whether Aadhaar Act could be passed as a money bill within the meaning of Article 110 of the Constitution?
It was answered as the purpose of the Aadhaar Act is to create unique identification so that citizens can avail government subsidy, benefit or service therefore such expenditure shall be charged from the Consolidated Fund of India. Hence can be passed as a money bill.
- The requirement of mandatorily linking Aadhaar with PAN was held valid on the basis of legitimate state interest and satisfying the proportionality principle.
- The requirement of mandatorily linking Aadhaar to the bank account numbers was held not to be valid as didn’t satisfy proportionality test.
- The requirement of mandatorily linking Aadhaar to mobile numbers was also held invalid as served as an encroachment on individual liberties.
Data Protection Principles
The apex court recognized certain data protection principles in the judgement such as:
- Data Minimization: collection of only data which is necessary for stated object or purpose.
- Purpose Limitation: using the data for only limited purposes and reducing its scope.
- Data Retention: Retaining the data for only limited period for serving the purpose.
- Data Security.
These principles were the relevant factors in determining whether the provisions of a particular act are in conformance with the individual’s right to privacy.
According to the majority order, the Aadhaar Act do not want to create a surveillance state. This aspect shall be ensured by the manner in which Aadhaar will operate. The judges also held that it is very difficult to create profile of a person simply on the basis of biometric and demographic information stored. The major focus of the act is to provide subsidies to the underprivileged than to hamper the privacy of an individual. Therefore to the extent where the act was violative, the court has struck down such provisions and rest remains operative in full capacity as an reasonable exception to the fundamental right to privacy.