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India Supreme Court limits use of ‘biometric’ ID system

A man gives a thumb impression to withdraw money from his bank account with his Aadhaar or Unique Identification (UID) card in Hyderabad. (AFP File Photo)

NEW DELHI, Sept 26, (Agencies): India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the validity of a massive biometric identity system, but flagged privacy concerns and curbed a government push to make it mandatory for services from opening bank accounts to securing cell phone connections.

The ruling was cheered by detractors of the system, known as Aadhaar, which has already provided biometric identities to more than a billion people, making it the world’s biggest such project.

Critics had expressed fears it could spawn a surveillance state and smoothe the way for companies to profile clients. “This is a fabulous judgment,” said lawyer Kapil Sibal, a member of the opposition Congress party, who had argued in court against the sweeping use of Aadhaar for identification.

“It takes care of citizens’ rights and it ensures we don’t have a surveillance state in place, it ensures that our privacy is not intruded into, and at the same time, it protects the rights of the marginalized,” he told television channel CNN-IBN.

A majority ruling by a panel of five judges cleared the use of Aadhaar for welfare schemes, saying it empowered the poor and marginalized. Among other objectives, the project aims to have a unique Aadhaar number, tied to an individual’s fingerprints, face and iris scan, block theft and leakages in India’s $23.6-billion-a-year food welfare programme.

“The entire aim behind launching this programme is the inclusion of the deserving persons who need to get such benefits,” said Justice A.K. Sikri, who delivered the ruling on behalf of the majority, adding that beneficiaries would be harmed if Aadhaar were to be shelved

 

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