"The real apprehension is that data available can be used to influence election outcome".
Explaining UIDAI's "zero tolerance" approach on Aadhaar data protection, senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi informed a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan that "UIDAI has imposed disincentives on Airtel and Axis Bank for failing to perform their responsibilities as requesting agencies" under the Aadhaar Act seeking authentication of identity.
"How the requesting entities will use the data is a matter of concern", said Justice Chandrachud pointing out to data being used for election, an apparent reference to the leak of data of a social media site during the US Presidential election.
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Dwivedi, however, did not make clear explanation whether the disincentives imposed on Airtel was linked to UIDAI's decision in December past year to temporarily bar Bharti Airtel and Airtel Payments Bank from conducting Aadhaar-based SIM verification of mobile customers using eKYC process as well as the eKYC of Payments Bank clients.
The senior counsel also said that smart card companies with commercial interests do not want Aadhaar to succeed. "Here, we do not seek details like caste, creed and religion from the citizens", he said, adding that the history of numbers began in India and "numbers are attractive and fascinating".He also urged the bench not to give in to the "hyper phobia" against the Aadhaar created by the petitioners opposed to the "inclusive scheme" of the government based on a law and the proper infrastructure.
When Dwivedi said that apprehensions about the misuse of data were "not real", Chandrachud insisted they were. "All these private players are also based on public money", he said. "What is the point of involving private parties in the Aadhaar infrastructure", the bench asked.
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He also referred to private companies like Reliance venturing into the defence sector and said at some point in time, the court will have to decide the aspect where private firms were dealing with public functions of the state, which are now being carried out by public sector companies. Requesting entity is anyone submitting Aadhaar number, demographic data or biometric information of an individual to the UIDAI for authentication.
The court said this as Dwivedi said that they have some limitation of technological knowledge coupled with a little bit of exaggeration and lamented the "Hyperbole being created by the petitioner". He reiterated that Aadhaar data was not subject to any kind of analysis and the people should trust the UIDAI with their data.
Crores of rupees were imposed as fine on telecom major Airtel and Axis Bank by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) for breaching terms and conditions attached to Aadhaar authentication, the Aadhaar body told the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
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"No data protection law can provide hundred percent protection". But, Diwedi countered saying that it is not numbering the individuals but "being identified" by means of a number. "And that is why we are trying to see the nature of safeguards that can be introduced".