Despite No Law to Protect Data, Lok Sabha Passes Aadhaar Yet Again

On the eve of the Union Budget, a spirited debate saw nearly all parties fiercely dissect the Aadhaar Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha, on Thursday, 4 July. The Lower House passed the bill to allow use of Aadhaar as proof of identity for opening bank accounts and procuring mobile phone connections.

A common refrain among Opposition MPs was framed around the necessity of tabling the Amendment Bill despite the Personal Data Protection Bill not having been tabled in Parliament.

Several MPs including Trinamool Congress’ Mahua Moitra, Congress’ Shashi Tharoor, Nationalist Congress Party’s Supriya Sule among others raised the issue in the context of privacy concerns surrounding Aadhaar.

The Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2019, was passed by a voice vote after Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad assured the House that Aadhaar is voluntary and informed consent of the biometric identity holder has to be obtained before it is used.

“As many as 123 crore people are currently using Aadhaar... All safeguards are in place to prohibit misuse of Aadhaar biometrics. Iris and finger print data is stored in Indian machinery and it is safe and secure,” Prasad said.

Also Read: Modi Government’s Aadhaar Amendment Bill Violates SC Judgment

Amendment Brought After SC Found Private Use of Aadhaar Unconstitutional

On 26 September 2018, a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of Aadhaar by a 4-1 majority. The Court, however, struck down several sections of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, benefits and services) Act, 2016

In particular, it had struck down section 57 of the Act that allowed private companies to use Aadhaar. The apex court found the section to be unconstitutional, stating that this could not be allowed without being backed by a specific law and that it could lead to commercial exploitation of personal data.

The Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2019, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 24 June, and once passed by the Rajya Sabha will replace an Ordinance issued in March 2019.

The amendments provide for use of Aadhaar number for KYC authentication on voluntary basis under the Telegraph Act, 1885, and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002.

Put simply, this means it will allow voluntary use of Aadhaar number for authentication and identity proof in opening bank accounts and procuring mobile phone connections.

Govt Has Saved Rs 1.41 Lakh Crore With Aadhar: Prasad

Displaying his personal Aadhaar card in the House, the Minister said the card only discloses his name, father's name, date of birth, residential address and does not give out any information on medical records or details of caste, religion and community.

He said Aadhaar data can only be shared when there is a threat to national security or there is a court order. “Even if I, as an, Information Technology Minister, seek Aadhaar data, I will be subject to three years of punishment,” Prasad said.

He said the government has saved Rs 1.41 lakh crore due to Aadhaar and removed 4.23 crore and 2.98 crore bogus LPG connection and ration cards respectively.

Prasad said the Bill is a wholesome amendment following the Supreme Court order. "Since crores of poor people are benefiting by using Aadhaar, hence in emergency we brought the Ordinance," he said.

The bill also gives option to children to exit from the biometric ID programme on attaining 18 years of age, while stipulating stiff penalties for violation of norms set for the use of Aadhaar and violation of privacy.

Data Protection Bill a ‘Work in Progress’: IT Minister

The minister further said the government would soon bring a data protection legislation in the House as it believes that India's data sovereignty has to be respected and the country should have a data analytics centre.

"The data protection law is work in progress. We have the Justice Srikrishna Committee report. Some more inter-ministerial consultation is going on," Prasad said. Justice Srikrishna panel had submitted its report in July 2018.

Defending the tabling of the bill prior to the data protection bill, Prasad said if crores of people are happy with Aadhaar, what is the House’s problem with it ?

The minister said Rs 7.84 lakh crore was sent through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) to beneficiaries under different schemes. Nearly Rs 1.41 lakh crore have been saved from middle men. He said 123.81 crore people have Aadhaar cards and nearly 6.91 crore bank accounts have been linked to it.

Lok Sabha Saw a Good Debate Today: Prasad

Participating in the debate on the bill, Ritesh Pandey (BSP) said there is a need to improve it.

Supriya Sule (NCP) said that "You are cheating common man... What privacy we are talking about?" Hitting out at the BJP, she said that "they are only growing on the programmes which UPA started." "Why is Aadhaar card compulsory? What is it? What is voter card then? We all have voter ID," she said.

PK Kunhalikutty (IUML) said that “You should have brought Data Protection Bill along with this Bill.” Stating Aadhaar as the biggest enemy of corruption, Manoj Tiwari (BJP) said that more the Aadhaar is strong, more are the benefits.

R Natarajan of CPI (M) said he strongly opposed the Bill on the ground that it was in contravention to the Supreme Court judgment.

Slamming the government, Asadussin Owaisi (AIMIM), Rammohan Naidu (TDP) and K RSP’ Premachandran alleged the government was seeking to benefit private entities from the legislation. He also demanded that the bill be sent to Standing Committee or Select Committees of Parliament.

Claiming that the bill would not stand in a court of law, Owaisi said “you could pass this bill with a brute majority, but be rest assured that it will be struck down by the courts.” 

Opposing the bill, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, said the government used the ordinance route to bring in the legislation. Chowdhury said it was the UPA government, which brought in the law, to which Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the NDA government gave legal status to Aadhaar.

“You have loaned the concept of Aadhaar from us (Aapne Aadhaar udhaar liya hain),” Chowdhury said. He said the Supreme Court had also rapped the government for violating privacy in Aadhaar.

(With inputs from PTI)

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