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Delhi HC seeks Centre’s response to petition challenging Aadhaar Ordinance

The Delhi High Court on Friday sought the Centre’s response to a petition challenging the constitutional validity of the recent Aadhaar Ordinance, reports LiveLaw. It gave the government until July 9 to respond. The Supreme Court had earlier this month refused to entertain the petition, which was filed in March by lawyer Reepak Kansal. The apex court had asked him to first approach a high court with his plea. Kansal’s petition said that the Centre promulgated and approved the Aadhaar and Others Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2019 in a hurry in order to overturn the Supreme Court’s Constitutional bench verdict on Aadhaar. Terming it undemocratic and unconstitutional, he said the ordinance would authorize private companies to use, sell and profit from people’s personal data.

Last September, the Supreme Court ruled that Aadhaar was constitutionally valid but specified a host of services for which it could not be made mandatory. It also struck down Section 57 which allowed private usage of Aadhaar. It deemed Aadhaar necessary for a PAN card, income tax returns, and availing welfare schemes and subsidies from the government, but said it could not be made mandatory for such things as opening a bank account, buying a SIM card, school admissions, and appearing for the CBSE, UGC and NEET examinations.

However, in February, the Union Cabinet approved the promulgation of the Aadhaar ordinance, which would allow private companies to use Aadhaar for authentication and verification — though the government claimed it would on the contrary protect people’s Aadhaar data from misuse. The ordinance had the same changes to the Aadhaar Act as proposed by the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment Bill), 2018, which was passed in the Lok Sabha in January, but later that month lapsed in the Rajya Sabha. Apart from the Aadhaar Act, it also amended the Telegraph Act and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

What does the ordinance do?

  • Allows private bodies such as banks and telcos to use Aadhaar as one of the ‘know your customer’ (KYC) methods for authenticating users.
  • Uses ‘authentication’ and ‘verification’ interchangeably: While the original Aadhaar Act uses the term verification only twice, the amendment bill uses the term 31 times. Under the ordinance, an entity can carry out authentication, provided they are compliant with the privacy and security regulations of the UIDAI. They can also be permitted to authenticate a user under the provisions of Parliamentary law or if the authentication is done in the “interest of the State”.
  • Allows a child with an Aadhaar card to apply to cancel his or her Aadhaar number within six months of turning 18. Earlier, a young adult did not have the choice of opting out.
  • Allows for the voluntary use of Aadhaar number for KYC under the Telegraph Act and Prevention of Money Laundering Act. A user can voluntarily identify herself through one of these modes: Aadhaar authentication, offline verification, passport or any other officially valid document.
  • Provides for establishment of the UIDAI Fund.
  • Allows for the appointment of an adjudicating officer, stipulates a jail sentence of up to 3 years for violations, and also allows the Aadhaar number holder to file a complaint.

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