Centre admits Aadhaar leak

Jharkhand denials sound hollow

By Our Legal Correspondent
  • Published 4.05.17
Supreme Court

New Delhi, May 3: The Centre today admitted that Aadhaar card details of individuals had indeed been leaked, but clarified before the Supreme Court that the breach was at the behest of certain government departments and not the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIAI).

"The leaks are from other government departments as they have trouble balancing transparency and data protection concerns. It is not from the UIAI office," government's counsel A. Sengupta told a bench of Justice A.K Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan in response to a query from the apex court.

The government's admission came after the bench referred to a report in a national daily today about the leak of Aadhaar card details to various private commercial and marketing agencies allegedly in several states, including Jharkhand.

In Jharkhand, right to food activists, led by economist Jean Dreze have sought action against those responsible for Aadhaar data leak from the website of the state's women and child welfare department wherein details of over 14 lakh beneficiaries of social schemes were visible to all on the night of April 22.

The BJP-led state government of Jharkhand has vehemently denied the leak, calling media reports to that effect "falsified", even though activists say they have screen shots of the website to prove the data breach.

"Today also there was news of data leak. How far is it true," asked Justice Sikri during the hearing of a batch of petitions filed by individuals challenging the Centre's latest decision to make Aadhaar mandatory for filing IT returns and obtaining Permanent Account Number (PAN) cards.

Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for some of the petitioners, however, rejected the government's defence, saying whether it was a leak from certain government departments or UIAI, the matter was serious as it impinged upon a citizen's right to privacy.

"They are saying it is not their fault, but the information is being leaked by some government departments. Once Aadhaar details are in the public domain, from the citizen's standpoint, it is the state which is leaking, be it Jharkhand or any other state. It is a serious infraction and violation of my fundamental right. If my fingerprint goes to a third party, I am finished," Divan argued.

The senior advocate argued that according to the official UIAI website, Aadhaar wasn't mandatory for residents with other forms of identity cards. "When UIAI says it is voluntary, they (government) are committing a fraud on the people by saying it is mandatory. Can you have a totalitarian state? Today, for attending schools or even for going to a picnic students have to produce their Aadhaar cards," he said.

The arguments are expected to conclude tomorrow.

On March 27, the apex court had clarified that the government could not insist on Aadhaar cards to provide citizens benefits of social welfare programmes such as pension, provident fund, school midday meal and the rural job guarantee scheme.

It could, however, do so for other services such as opening bank accounts or issuing driving licences, a bench headed by Chief Justice J.S. Khehar had said. However, the larger issue of the constitutional validity of the Aadhar programme, which involves "right to privacy", would be decided by a seven-judge bench, it added.