Smart card companies, search giant Google don’t want Aadhaar to succeed, UIDAI tells SC

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Private companies, including smart card companies and search giant Google, do not want Aadhaar to succeed, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) claimed before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, while rejecting the contention that data collected under scheme can be used to create voters’ profiles to rig elections.

Chief Justice Dipak Misra said that democracy would be in peril if data collected during Aadhaar authentication is misused for “influencing the elections.” This apprehension was shared Justice DY Chandrachud, another of the members of the Supreme Court bench hearing petitions against the Aadhaar Act, who said it was not “symptomatic” but “real.”

“The real apprehension is that data available can be used to influence election outcome. Will democracy survive if data is used to influence the electoral influence? We have seen it,” Justice Chandrachud said, alluding to the recent controversy surrounding Cambridge Analytica’s alleged of Facebook user data to influence voters in the US elections and Brexit referendum.

The bench is hearing a set of petitions calling the Aadhaar scheme a gross violation of an individual’s fundamental right to privacy.

Dwivedi countered the judge’s view and submitted the algorithm used by UIDAI for Aadhaar was different from the one used by Google or Cambridge Analytica. He cautioned the judges from getting prejudiced by what happened in Cambridge Analytica’s case. “UIDAI is using matching algorithm. We cannot compare ourselves with Google using a learning algorithm, meant for Artificial Intelligence. Aadhaar’s algorithm is restricted to duplication and authentication. The law does not allow UIDAI to carry out analysis of the data nor does the algorithm allow it do so,” Dwivedi submitted.

The senior counsel also said that smart card companies with commercial interests do not want Aadhaar to succeed. “Smart card companies have entrenched interest in Europe. If the Indian experiment (of Aadhaar) succeeds then smart cards are gone. Singapore has already moved to biometric based identity cards,” Dwivedi contended. He said he wanted the people of India to trust UIDAI and the authority assured that Aadhaar information is safe.

Justice Chandrachud said the court was concerned with the “potential interface of data available with the outside world. A big entity is controlling the data. And that is why we are trying to see the nature of safeguards that can be introduced.”

Dwivedi remarked there are limitations of knowledge and technological development, to which Justice Chandrachud replied, “Limitations of knowledge cannot lead us to a blinkered view of reality because we are going to lay down a law which will affect the future generation of the country.”

Dwivedi told the court that contrary to apprehensions, it would be impossible for third parties to get Aadhaar details of an individual without prior concurrence of UIDAI. He even refuted the petitioners’ claim that human beings are numbered under Aadhaar. “They are being identified with a numbes. This happens in all the services, for example bank accounts and even when you book air tickets,” he said.

On the concern that private organisations, such as banks and mobile phone companies, could misuse Aadhaar, Dwivedi said it was time for the top court to make private players accountable. “Private entities are playing role the role that only public entities played hitherto. All these private players are also based on public money,” he said.

Private players that are part of the Aadhaar structure are under control, he assured. “They are bound by the law. A mandamus can be issued against them because they are performing public duty,” he said.

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