The Supreme Court on Tuesday sought to know from those who have challenged the constitutional validity of Aadhaar how the unique identification number of a person makes any difference in a networked world when the data was already available with private entities.
A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra observed that personal data of citizens were with the private entities and asked the petitioners how insertion of Aadhaar number would make any change.
"Our personal data is anyway with the private entities. So does interpolation of Aadhaar number make any difference," the bench asked senior advocate Shyam Divan, who is appearing for some of the petitioners.
The bench, which also comprised Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, told the lawyer that citizens were living in a networked world now.
The apex court also observed that biometric information, which was collected during the process of Aadhaar enrollment, was deposited in a central database and citizens were required to only give their 12-digit unique identifier number for the purpose of identification.
The bench is hearing a clutch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the government's flagship Aadhaar programme and its enabling Act of 2016.
Divan said since private entities were part of the enrollment process for Aadhaar, the data collected by them could be "completely compromised".
He said around 49,000 private agencies, involved in the process of enrollment for Aadhaar, were blacklisted last year by the government, which has raised a serious question mark over the sanctity of the data, including biometrics of citizens, collected by them.
"The enrollment process is completely compromised. The enroller is a private entity and data is collected without there being any government official present there. 49,000 of these enrollers have been blacklisted," he said.
Divan, who is representing petitioners like former Karnataka High Court judge Justice K S Puttaswamy, activists like Aruna Roy, Shantha Sinha and veteran CPI(M) leader V S Achuthanandan, said an "enormous electronic mesh" is being created where the whole profile of an individual was collected, as he referred to the collection of demographic and biometric data like iris and finger prints of citizens.
"It, according to us, is a complete surveillance state and a surveillance society," he said, adding that the biometrics of a person changes with time.
During the arguments which would continue tomorrow, Divan said there was no need to have a singular identity like Aadhaar.
"If one is entitled to benefits, subsidies, scholarships or pensions under the Constitution, then Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for them," he said.
Divan also referred to the apex court's verdict declaring right to privacy as a fundamental right under the Constitution and the provisions of the Aadhaar Act and said that citizens have the right to obtain Aadhaar but there should not be any compulsion to mandatorily obtain it.
The bench observed that people were already giving details like permanent account number (PAN) and other documents to private entities and mobile companies.
On being asked by the bench as to what was the harm in giving Aadhaar number for availing the benefits and other schemes, Divan said a citizens may not want to give his Aadhaar to protect himself.
Divan had earlier submitted that the state cannot compel its citizens to give personal information, that too to a private company, as it violated their fundamental rights.
He had referred to the legal position with regard to the national population census and said it has been made clear that personal and demographic details of citizens collected during census were being protected, but in case of Aadhaar, there was no such safeguard.
The apex court had on December 15 last year extended till March 31 the deadline for mandatory linking of Aadhaar with various services and welfare schemes of all ministries and departments of the Centre, states and union territories.