The Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI), the nodal agency in charge of implementing Aadhaar, on Tuesday sought to justify opening up the Aadhaar platform for private players, saying the “private sector had stepped into many areas where hitherto only public sector was operating” and that they were subject to the writ of law and the courts.
The UIDAI also claimed that many entities like Google and the smart card industry did not want Aadhaar to succeed, and strongly denied that Aadhaar data could be used to manipulate election results, as was allegedly done by Cambridge Analytica.
“Some day the court will have to look into this question of private players… I’m not saying take a decision now,” senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi told a five-judge Constitution bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhan. “For the present, it is enough for me to say all these requesting entities are controllable. They are bound by the law,” he said.
Dwivedi submitted that it has already been held that where a private body performs a public duty, a mandamus can be issued against it. So the courts can direct private players whenever there are excesses, he said.
Justice Chandrachud said there were fears “the data of individual available today can be used to influence elections…So the question is, what are the safeguards we need to introduce to ensure the object of the Act is met.”
Dwivedi said, “Please don’t compare Cambridge Analytica to this… We don’t have the kind of data Google or Facebook has.”
He claimed there were many with commercial interests who did not want Aadhaar to succeed. “Smart cards have entrenched interests in Europe. If the Indian experiment succeeds, smart cards will be in danger in the European Union… Singapore is already moving to biometric-based identity,” he said. “Google and smart card industry don’t want Aadhaar to succeed.”
Justice Chandrachud said the problem was that “there is an interface of the Act with the world outside”, and this was the area the court was concerned about.
To this, Dwivedi said UIDAI welcomed the tests happening in the court “because if we succeed here, people will trust us. We want the trust of the people.”
Taking exception to some of the petitioners drawing parallels between Aadhaar numbers to the Adolf Hitler regime numbering people, Dwivedi said, “We don’t collect details about race or religion of the subscribers. The problem with Hitler’s number was that it said who is a Jew and who is not.” Admitting that Aadhaar was “not panacea for all evils”, he said there will be crime based on it, which will have to be tackled.