Apex court grills UIDAI over possible data misuse

In wake of the Cambridge Analytica data leak controversy, the Supreme Court red flagged the threat of probable misuse of citizens’ information by entities which were getting Aadhaar details authenticated by the UIDAI.

A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, hearing clutch of petitions challenging Aadhaar and enabling 2016 law, referred to the Cambridge Analytica controversy and said these are not “imaginary apprehensions” and, in the absence of robust data protection law, the issue of misuse of information becomes relevant, media reports said.

“The real apprehension is that elections are swayed using data analytics. These problems are symptomatic of the world we live in,” a PTI report quoted the bench, also comprising Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, as saying.

“Please do not bring Cambridge Analytica into this. The UIDAI simply does not have the learning algorithms like Facebook, Google to analyse details of users,” senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and the Gujarat government, reportedly said.

Besides the Aadhaar Act does not authorise any kind of data analysis, he reportedly said, adding the UIDAI has “simple matching algorithms” which give answers like ‘yes’ or ‘no’ after it receives a request for Aadhaar authentication from a requesting entity.

The bench, which posed several searching questions, asked the lawyer why the authorities were allowing private entities to use the Aadhaar platform for various purposes and referred to the legal provision to this effect.

“Why are words ‘body corporate or any person’ used in section 57 of the Act. It breaks the nexus of the Act with the Consolidated Fund of India… What is the point of involving private parties in the Aadhaar infrastructure,” the bench asked.

Dwivedi responded by saying that “it does not allow any ‘chaiwala’ or a ‘panwala’ to become a requesting entity under the Act. It is a limited exercise. The UIDAI will not approve anyone to become an requesting entity (RE) unless it is satisfied that the particular entity needs to use facility of authentication,” reported PTI.

He also referred to private companies like Reliance venturing into the defence sector and said at some point in time, the court will have to decide the aspect where private firms were dealing with public functions of the state, which are currently being carried out by public sector companies.

He also urged the bench not to give in to the “hyper phobia” against the Aadhaar created by the petitioners opposed to the “inclusive scheme” of the government based on a law and the proper infrastructure.

“Lobbies favouring smart cards do not want this scheme to succeed as they are opposed to Aadhaar,” the senior lawyer was quoted as saying.

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