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India’s Ruling That Privacy Is Human Right May Affect Its National Biometric System
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Aadhaar in India uses retinal scans and fingerprinting to identify its citizens. Photo courtesy of Scroll.

Summary: The Supreme Court of India ruled that privacy was a fundamental human right. 

On Thursday, India’s top court gave the nation of 1.34 billion people the right to privacy. According to CNN, the nine-member bench of the Supreme Court ruled in a landmark case that the right to privacy was a fundamental right to life and liberty that was written in the country’s constitution.

  
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“Right to Privacy is an integral part of Right to Life and Personal Liberty guaranteed in Article 21 of the Constitution,” the bench ruled. 

According to CNN, the ruling may affect the country’s biometric identification system. The country has a program called Aadhaar that uses fingerprints and retinal scans, and the court said that the program violated a person’s right to privacy.

“This is not just a legal victory. It is a moral victory,” Nikhil Pahwa, the co-founder of the Internet Freedom Foundation, said to CNN. 

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More than one billion Indians are registered with the Aadhaar program, which gives citizens a 12-digit number that aligns with their eyes scans and fingerprints. Proponents of the program had originally argued that the Indian Constitution had never had a provision for the right to privacy, and Thursday’s ruling stemmed from a case that challenged the country’s decision to make Aadhaar mandatory to all.

Thursday’s ruling spanned over five hundred pages and included passages from Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” as well as writing from James Madison. The judgment will not only have an effect on the country but the world.



“I think this ruling is important for countries in Africa and around the world that were hoping to learn from India’s experience,” Pawha said.

Aadhaar is a voluntary program that is closely watched by other countries because it is similar to a digital social security number system. In theory, banks and government agencies could easily identify people for various practical reasons, and it is supposed to streamline benefit payments and reduce fraud.

“We are sending subsidies directly to the poor in their bank accounts. In the last three years we have saved nearly $9 billion which would have been pocketed by middlemen,” said India’s Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to CNN. “The poor are happy. They are feeling empowered.”

Critics of Aadhaar said that it violated privacy because it tracked people’s spending habits, relationships, property, and more.

Aadhaar was set up in 2009, and while numerous people have benefitted by receiving government payments efficiently, the program had been the victim of a few data breaches, which affected millions, according to Al Jareeza.

In addition to its effects on Aadhaar, Al Jareeza said that Thursday’s ruling could mean that more individual privacy cases may be tried in Indian court.

What do you think of the Aadhaar system? Let us know in the comments below.



 

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