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SC grills Centre on mandatory seeding of Aadhaar with mobiles

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday questioned the government decision making seeding of mobile numbers with Aadhaar mandatory and said the Centre had used the court's earlier order for mandatory authentication of mobile users as a "tool".

A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, hearing a clutch of petitions challenging Aadhaar and its enabling 2016 law, said its order on a PIL filed by 'Lokniti Foundation' had only said that mobile users needed to be verified (authenticated) in the interest of national security.

"In fact there was no direction from the Supreme Court, but you took it and used it as a tool to make Aadhaar mandatory for mobile users," the bench, also comprising Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, said.

Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), said the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) notification talked about re-verification of mobile numbers through e-KYC process and the Telegraph Act gave "exclusive power to central government to decide license conditions" of service providers.

"How can you (DoT) impose condition on service recipients for seeding Aadhaar with mobile phones," the bench asked, adding that license agreements were between the government and the service providers.

Dwivedi said the direction to seed mobile with Aadhaar was given in pursuance of TRAI's recommendation. Besides, the government was entitled and had legitimate interest to ensure that a SIM card is given to only those who applied, he said, seeking to allay apprehensions that the State would surveil people 24x7.

Scot-free

Dwivedi alleged that the Aadhaar scheme was being unfairly targeted while nobody questioned banks and telecom firms, which have much "bigger data base" on the citizens. "For example, Vodafone has much bigger data base without Aadhaar," he added.

Dwivedi referred to an app available on Google Playstore and said it has so much personal information about a person. He gave details, procured by using the app, about him and his family members to the bench.

The bench was pleasantly surprised when Dwivedi said details were available on the fees he charged the Jammu and Kashmir government for appearing in a case.

The lawyer referred to the control enjoyed by UIDAI over entities, private and government, which seek Aadhaar authentication for providing services and benefits to citizens.

No surveillance

These entities cannot track any individual by using the information, adding that Aadhaar cannot lead to surveillance.

"Google and Facebook process tremendous data on a daily basis. UIDAI does not have that kind of algorithm," he said and urged the court to save the Aadhaar law and suggest measures, if any, to make it work.

Dwivedi concluded his arguments saying that CIDR was safe, data was encrypted and was held offline and above all, the Aadhaar scheme was safer than smart cards as there was no chance of data breach.

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