In final hearings on Aadhaar, SC asks if it can track citizens

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A five-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice Dipak Misra began hearing the arguments on a batch of petitions challenging the very concept of Aadhaar and the subsequent passing of law in 2016 and its linking to various schemes as well as bank accounts and mobile phones. A people's Constitution would turn into a state Constitution because of the mass surveillance it would entrench, he said. 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 Supreme Court on Wednesday asked whether the state could compel citizens, including children, to part with their biometrics in public interest even as petitioners described the Aadhaar "project" as a "giant electronic leash", which reduces individuals to mere numbers.

Divan said the government has got a "switch by which it can cause the civil death of an individual".

At this, justice Chandrachud wondered if Aadhaar could be considered safe if the biometric information was used only for the objective for which it was collected. State could ask for the biometric identification of teachers and students for the implementation of Right to Education Act or for mid-day meal scheme for which hundreds of crores of rupees are spent.

With Aadhaar receiving flak from all corners including whistleblower Edward Snowden, the Supreme Court on Wednesday was reminded about its questionable nature. But that does not mean the Speaker can certify any Bill as a money Bill. "If the Bill violates Article 110, the judiciary has the power to review it for constitutionality", Chidambaram said. The other judges are Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice AK Sikri, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice Ashok Bhushan.

Divan contended that at its core, Aadhaar alters the relationship between the citizen and the State and diminishes the status of the citizen.

Right off the bat, Divan confessed that there was no precedent to guide them in this one-of-its-kind situation.

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 United States visa.

Shyam Divan said if the Aadhaar Act was allowed to continue unchecked, it would "hollow out the Constitution".

The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked Aadhaar challengers if the state can not ask its citizens to cite 12-digit unique identification numbers to ensure that the money being spent on welfare schemes reached to the real beneficiaries.

"This leash is connected to a central database that is created to track transactions across the life of the citizen. This record will enable the State to profile citizens, track their movements, assess their habits and silently influence their behaviour", Divan added. "Over time, the profiling enables the State to stifle dissent and influence political decision making", Divan said.

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