New Delhi: The Supreme Court verdict on Wednesday upholding the constitutional validity of biometric identification Aadhaar has laid down the blueprint for privacy protection in the country, at a time when businesses are increasingly using personal data and artificial intelligence to target customers.

The apex court’s five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra discussed at length the contours of the right to privacy in the context of Aadhaar, and addressed some of the fears around privacy protection. The ruling, which shows that the government and the apex court are on the same page on certain key aspects of privacy, is significant in view of the fact that a new data protection law is under preparation.

The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018, which is based on the recommendations of former Supreme Court judge B.N. Srikrishna, is currently in the public domain for consultation and comments.

The Bill may undergo some changes before it is tabled in Parliament.

One of the key observations by the apex court was that the requirement to give biometric and demographic data, as well as the collection, storage and use of data, does not violate the fundamental rights to privacy of a person. This goes to show that the government and the court are on the same page in the evolving jurisprudence relating to privacy protection.

To a large extent, the court has accepted the government’s take on what constitutes privacy protection in case of a biometric-based identification project such as Aadhaar. One of the reasons the court accepted the government’s contention is that it believed that the information parted by individuals are minimal. “One of the strongest objections raised against Aadhaar was that the collection of demographic and biometric information is violation of the fundamental right to privacy and, therefore, unconstitutional. However, rejecting the same, the court upheld the validity thereof and declared that it does not violate the fundamental right to privacy," said Manoj S.R., a Delhi-based lawyer, specializing on the Constitution, adding that the apex court also rejected the argument that the Aadhaar Act creates an architecture for pervasive surveillance. The 1,448-page verdict referred several times to the privacy principles set out in the August 2017 justice K.S. Puttaswamy versus Union of India landmark judgement, which pronounced privacy as a fundamental right, to test the Aadhaar architecture against it.

The court noted that both the petitioners and the government had relied on different passages from the Puttaswamy case, which discussed in detail the scope and ambit of the right to privacy. Although the court has passed Aadhaar through the privacy test, it has recommended non-use of the metabase by the issuing authority, in an attempt to bolster privacy provisions.

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