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Petition says linking Aadhaar with bank accounts violates right to privacy

A new petition has been filed against Aadhaar in India’s Supreme Court, challenging Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) decision to link the 12-digit biometric identity number to bank accounts on grounds that it violates the right to privacy, according to a report by Inc42.

The petition, filed by Kalyani Menon Sen, comes a day after RBI announced that linking of bank accounts with Aadhaar is now mandatory under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

“The government has issued a gazette notification GSR 538(E) dated 1 June 2017 regarding Prevention of Money Laundering (Maintenance of Records) Second Amendment Rules (PMLA), 2017, inter alia, making furnishing of Aadhaar (for those individuals who are eligible to be enrolled for Aadhaar) and permanent number (PAN) mandatory for opening a bank account,” the central bank said.

In addition to opposing the RBI order, the petition also challenged the department of telecommunication’s decision in March to make it mandatory for citizens to link their mobile phones with Aadhaar.

Sen said that both decisions violated an individual’s right to privacy and should therefore be considered unconstitutional.

“A citizen’s right to privacy is a fundamental right that is constitutionally protected,” Sen wrote in her petition. “The right to privacy in the context of these two circulars (linking Aadhaar with bank accounts and mobile phones) has violated a citizen’s complete right over ownership and control of his core biometric information to the exclusion of all others, including the State.”

Sen’s petition is one of a handful of pending pleas challenging Aadhaar on the grounds of violation of privacy.

In August, a nine-member bench of the country’s top court unanimously ruled that Right to Privacy is a fundamental right.

Following this judgment, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court will now assess the validity of Aadhaar from the perspective of privacy as a Fundamental Right.

“Present and potential bank account holders who do not wish to part with their biometric information are, therefore, treated on a par with alleged offenders under PMLA,” the petition said. “Building a database dependent on Aadhaar and information linked there constitutes an unreasonable risk for financial autonomy and privacy of account holders, banks and financial sovereignty of the nation.”

The petition also opposes the government’s decision to link Aadhaar to various social welfare programs as this could prevent many recipients from receiving benefits due to faulty data.

Kalyani said that the Aadhaar Act, 2016 had explicitly limited the mandatory requirement of Aadhaar to cases where individuals receive a subsidy, benefit or service from the Consolidated Fund of India.

She said that “services which are provided by public and private sector banks and operating of bank accounts do not fall under any subsidy, benefit or service”. Therefore, this directly challenged the basis of RBI’s order to link bank accounts with Aadhaar.

The petition also said the move violates “the citizen’s right to self-determination with respect to core biometric information without fear of penal consequences, which extends even after a person has (voluntarily or otherwise) parted with his or her core biometric information”.

The petition will likely to be heard next week by the Supreme Court.

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