That was the substance of questions posed by two judges, including the Chief Justice of India (CJI) on Wednesday as a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court began hearing pleas against Aadhaar in one of the most keenly watched cases of recent times. "There are very few precedents to guide us". This record will enable the State to profile citizens, track their movements, assess their habits and silently influence their behaviour.
There were also other questions asked by the judges to the counsel, with Justices AK Sikri and DY Chandrachud wanting to know how the biometrics for Aadhaar was different from the biometrics for getting a U.S. visa. "Over time, the profiling enables the state to stifle dissent and influence political decision-making", he said.
Brushing aside the Centre's contention that challenge to Aadhaar was "elitist", Divan said the question is "whether the Constitution of India allows the State to embrace this new programme or whether the Constitution repudiates this giant electronic mesh". "Effectively today, you can not live as a citizen of India without an Aadhaar card". "Their biometrics are not registered".
He said this case was about a new technology that the government has sought to deploy and a new architecture of governance has been built on this technology. "As the Aadhaar platform extends to private corporations, the degree of tracking and extent of profiling will exponentially increase", he said.
Whether Aadhaar is violative of the abiding values of the Constitution and does it precipitates a future where the all-intrusive State does not recognise an individual but a number?
Advocate Shyam Divan, representing the petitioners, said that no democratic society had engaged in a programme of the size and scale of Aadhaar, Live Law reported.
Interestingly, even that judgement had a provision to allow the state to collect information so as to improve the performance of its social welfare schemes. Divan claimed that the Aadhaar programme "inverts the relationship between the citizen and the state".
- The petitioner also argued that Aadhaar could lead to millions of people being denied access to essential services and benefits in violation of their human rights, as he pointed out that biometric details of nearly 6.2 crore people have been rejected, mainly due to calloused hands and fingertips, wherein biometric data could not be recorded. Justice DY Chandrachud, one of the five judges on the bench questioned if Aadhaar was safe and biometric was being used for the goal they were collected.
"The Constitution is not a charter of servitude". The top court has also received petitions regarding the linkage of this 12-digit number with mobile phones, bank accounts and so on, the last date for which was extended to March 31 this year.
In a path-breaking ruling on 24 August 2017, the apex court held that privacy is a fundamental right.