New Delhi: The Lok Sabha on Friday passed a bill to amend three laws to provide legal backing to the government’s decision to allow voluntary linkage of Aadhaar with mobile phone numbers and bank accounts. The bill seeking to amend the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, and the Prevention of Money-laundering Act, 2002, was introduced in Parliament on Wednesday.

The government wants to lay the ground for allowing Aadhaar to be used by private entities for identity checks despite a Supreme Court ruling in September that Aadhaar can only be used for welfare schemes and for delivering state subsidies. It had barred private companies from using Aadhaar data for authenticating customers.

The court, seeking to address privacy concerns, said it was not mandatory to link Aadhaar with bank accounts or mobile phone numbers.

Addressing the parliament on the amendments, IT and law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Friday, “The cabinet will pass the Bill, I am not passing it. Aadhaar is for the people of the country, we had opposed Aadhaar before because there was no Act, our government has brought in a rule. Digital identity confirms the other forms of identity. Through Aadhaar there will be a check on corruption."

The passage of the bill comes despite concerns raised by the Opposition on Wednesday that the proposed amendments are an infringement of the Supreme Court’s judgement. Some members including Shashi Tharoor (Congress) had suggested that a data protection law should be enacted before the bill is passed.

The government is yet to introduce the draft personal data protection bill in Parliament. On 30 November, Prasad said the government is looking at the “widest consultation and feedback" on the draft bill.

“Friday evening 5pm. Lok Sabha takes up #Aadhaar Amendment Bill for discussion and passing. Convention says House never takes up Bills on Friday afternoon as it is Private Members Bill Day. Lok Sabha almost empty. This Govt making a mockery of all institutions including #Parliament," tweeted Trinamool Congress lawmaker Derek O’Brien.

The draft Aadhaar amendment bill puts the onus on offline verification of Aadhaar number holders where the individual will be verified through QR codes without submission of biometric or demographic information to data servers of the Unique Identification Authority of India. “Offline verification means the process of verifying the identity of the Aadhaar number holder without authentication through such offline modes as may be specified by regulation," according to the amendment bill.

The Bill also proposes a civil penalty of up to 1 crore on entities that violate the provisions of the Aadhaar Act, with an additional fine of up to 10 lakh per day in case of continuous non-compliance.

According to the bill, “no offline verification-seeking entity shall— subject an Aadhaar number holder to authentication; collect, use, or store an Aadhaar number or biometric information of any individual for any purpose; take any action contrary to any obligation on it as may be specified by regulations."

On 17 December, the Union Cabinet gave its go-ahead to amending existing laws to give legal backing to the voluntary use of Aadhaar.

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