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Supreme Court refuses to entertain challenge to Aadhaar ordinance, tells petitioners to approach high court

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On Friday the Supreme Court refused to entertain a petition challenging the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar ordinance brought by the centre in February, PTI reported. The court asked the petitioners to first approach a high court with their plea. Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, arguing for the petitioners, claimed the matter was of national importance as it would have a pan-India effect, the PTI report said. But the court said that it was not deciding anything about the merits of the case and simply wanted the view of a high court.

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 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.

But 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.

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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.

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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