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MeitY asks UIDAI opinion on Aadhaar-social media linkage: ‘We want to know what’s legally possible’

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The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has sought UIDAI’s opinion on linking social media accounts to the 12-digit Aadhaar number, Rakesh Maheshwari, an official in the ministry, confirmed to MediaNama. He said, “We understand the implications [of such a linkage], but it is always good to have a view,” he said. This development comes at a time when this plea has been dismissed by the Madras High Court, and similar cases might be heard in the Supreme Court. This story was first reported by the Economic Times, citing an anonymous official.

MeitY’s action was prompted by the Facebook transfer petition that is being heard in the Supreme Court. “The way it was presented to the court made it seem as if the government wanted this linkage, but we weren’t there, so we want to be doubly sure. We don’t want to present two different opinions from the government to be presented before the court,” Maheshwari said. At the last hearing on August 20, the Supreme Court bench had issued notice to all respondents, including MeitY and UIDAI.

Maheshwari acknowledged the repercussions of such a linkage: “In our view, there are practical and legal issues [with Aadhaar-social media linkage] as well”, but said that the government wants to know what is legally viable. “We want to know from UIDAI what is legally allowed. If this is not legally allowed, then it is out of question. But if it is legally allowed, we need to look at questions of desirability and practicality,” Maheshwari said.

Madras HC: Aadhaar can only be used for social welfare schemes

What is the Facebook transfer petition? Facebook has petitioned the Supreme Court to transfer four PILs against it on similar issues across the country to the apex court. These include two PILs in Madras HC (being heard as one), and one PIL each in Bombay and Jabalpur High Courts. The Madras HC petition has progressed the most. The next hearing on the petition is on September 13.

What has the Madras High Court said so far? The Madras High Court has categorically denied any scope for linking Aadhaar to social media accounts, and instead expanded the scope of the initial PILs to include issues of curbing cybercrime and role of intermediary liability. In at least two different hearings and two orders, the judges have cited the 2018 Supreme Court judgement to deny such linkage:

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  • “Aadhaar is a government record used only for social welfare schemes. You cannot have the government linking it with social media.” — Justice S. Manikumar, June 27
  • “Let the transfer petition be considered. We’ve already clarified that though the particular prayer [of Aadhaar linkage] was considered, we dismissed it as it violated the Supreme Court judgement [on Aadhaar usage]. We expanded the scope of the petitions … for social media to help in investigations.” — Justice S. Manikumar, August 21
  • “… we expanded the scope of the writ petitions, and decided not to address the prayers [to link Aadhaar to social media accounts] as such in the writ petitions, more so, taking note of the decision of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in K.S.Puttaswamy Vs. Union of India reported in (2019) 1 SCC 1.” — Madras HC order dated August 21

What is the Supreme Court’s stance on linking Aadhaar to social media accounts? The division bench that is hearing the transfer petition has not made any judgements yet, but in September 2018, the apex court struck down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act and thus prohibited private entities from asking for Aadhaar data.

Dive deeper: Facebook transfer petition, WhatsApp traceability case

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