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Indian Supreme Court defers decision on Aadhaar cease order


Yesterday, the Supreme Court of India did not modify an order that suspended the multi-fold expansion of the Aadhaar citizen biometric registration scheme proposed by Prime Minister Modi’s government.

The court instead stated that the request made by the central government, the Unique Identification Authority of Indi, the Reserve Bank of India and other securities, insurance, telecom and pension regulators should be heard by a constitutional panel of the same court.

The court noted however that a decision concerning the establishment of such a panel would be expedited and could come as early as Friday, according to an article in the Indian Express.

In August, the court placed a cease order on the central government concerning its use of Aadhaar data. Under the new court order, the use of Aadhaar is restricted to the distribution of liquid propane gas, kerosene and food grains. India’s Supreme Court also ordered that any additional data collected under the auspices of the Aadhaar program could not be used for any other purpose, except for criminal investigations specifically approved by the court.

In its cease order, the court also stated that the government had to ensure it made it extremely clear to citizens that the use of the Aadhaar system is optional for accessing welfare programs, and that no personal data contained within the system would be shared with any other government departments.

The Indian government opposes the cease order because it intends to use Aadhaar to expand social services to include a new universal healthcare scheme, along with enhanced monitoring of government employee attendance and truancy. The government also wants to expand the use of the Aadhaar biometric system for national security and crime-related surveillance. Currently, Aadhaar is used to identify citizens and provides various services for approximately 630 million people.

Government advocates, including a former UIDAI chairman have argued that “Aadhaar is critical plumbing for a welfare state” and is an absolute necessity in order to implement newly proposed social security and national security programs. Civil libertarians in opposition to the Aadhaar scheme have long argued that the system is unconstitutional because it breaches a fundamental right to privacy, and was born in legislative illegitimacy. In response, the government recently argued before the Supreme Court that privacy is not a fundamental right bestowed by India’s constitution and asked the court to reconsider all its judgments over the past two decades that defined privacy as a constitutional right.

A decision on the cease order will move the country closer to determining the legality of the Aadhaar system, along with permitted government and private sector use.

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