India’s Supreme Court hears Aadhaar biometric ID privacy case

India’s Supreme Court is trying to determine whether citizens are entitled to privacy as a fundamental right in a case that could greatly impact the nation’s Aadhaar 12-digit biometric identity program and several global technology firms, according to a report by Bloomberg.

The government’s legal basis of the Aadhaar program has been met with a huge backlash from activists, lawyers and politicians alike, with the Supreme Court in New Delhi tasked with assessing whether the system should be eliminated or altered.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expanded the system’s adoption beyond its intended use of securely sending welfare benefits to the poor, to include other applications like purchasing a phone, getting utilities connected or performing financial transactions online.

Any alterations could affect tech companies such as Microsoft Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co., which have incorporated the biometric identity system into their products.

Meanwhile, the court’s new interpretation of privacy can potentially impact Google and Facebook Inc..

Many of Aadhaar’s opposers want the program to be limited to specific cases to ensure that any private data collected by the government isn’t uploaded to a central database, which would make it more susceptible to theft or unlawful use.

A “fundamental right” in India is protected by the country’s constitution and cannot be stripped away from citizens except in rare cases such as those related to national security.

The government recently said that privacy is not, in fact, a fundamental right of citizens and a person’s right to their body isn’t absolute.

Earlier this month, Chief Justice of India JS Khehar revealed that the court’s nine-judge panel would hear several petitions challenging the legality of the Aadhaar project.

Over the past three days of petition hearings, some judges have argued whether privacy could even be considered a fundamental right when Google and Facebook extensively collect information from their users.

“When one can share personal data with private players like Apple, why not share it with the government? What’s the difference?” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud asked during the hearing. “The moment you want to travel from Mumbai to Delhi, you will get 100 suggestions. Your private and personal data is in private hands, so is there anything qualitatively different when the state has it?”

Lawyer Sajan Poovayya, who represents petitioner Rajeev Chandrasekhar, said that just because a private firm has access to a person’s data, or it is in the public domain, it doesn’t serve as a sound argument against the right to privacy.

The government will deliver its rebuttal during the hearings this week, with the court expected to make a ruling in the weeks to come.

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