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Petition to restrain mobile operators from obtaining Aadhaar details filed before SC

Anurag Dey | Updated on: 23 October 2017, 18:55 IST

Challenging the government’s move to make Aadhaar-based e-KYC (know your customer) mandatory for mobile phone connections, a petition has been filed before the Supreme Court seeking to restraint private telecom operators from obtaining data from the UIDAI.

Filed by advocate Raghav Tankha, the petition said the Department of Telecom (DoT) “malafidely” interpreted an apex court order in the “Lokniti Foundation Case” and issued a circular mandating Aadhaar as the only means of authentication for proof of identity (PoI) and proof of address (PoA) of mobile subscribers.

In Lokniti Foundation v Union of India, an apex court bench in February, addressing the issue of verification and re-verification of mobile subscribers, hoped that a process ensuring proper verification would be carried out as far as possible within a period of one year.

Subsequently, on 23 March, the DoT came out with a circular, declaring that the Supreme Court had essentially directed them to make Aadhaar-based e-KYC mandatory for obtaining new connections and for re-verifying existing subscribers.

The circular also directed telecom operators to intimate subscribers about the court order through advertisement in various media and also through SMS.

The petitioner said that since then telecom operators have been repeatedly sending emails and SMSs asking subscribers to link their Aadhaar.

Referring to the SC’s august verdict of declaring the right to privacy as a fundamental right, the petition said the DoT’s circular and the telecom operators consistent call for linking of Aadhaar tantamount to contempt of court.

“Knowing full well, that this (right to privacy) judgment could lead to this practice of linking Aadhaar with various facilities being set aside by this court which is looking into this issue, these private telecom service providers’ have been continuing to feverishly advertise it being mandatory to link Aadhaar to subscribers mobile number. This amounts to willful disregard of this court’s judgment and amounts to contempt of this court,” said the petition.

It contends that the court’s order in the Lokniti case makes it clear that – “firstly, Aadhaar is not mandatory for obtaining a new mobile connection, and secondly, with respect to existing subscribers, only re-verification of existing prepaid subscribers has been addressed in the said order”.

“The Government of India was deliberately misinterpreting and misusing an order/judgment passed by this court,” said the petitioners referring to the Lokniti order and the DoT’s subsequent circular.

The petitioner said the move “puts at risk the information of millions of Aadhaar subscribers who are being actively misled”.

“Barring the procedure described in the DoT circular, there is no assurance whatsoever, on how this sensitive data which has been collected will be used, with whom it will be shared and under what circumstances. In the event of it being compromised what consequences a citizen who submitted such data will face, there is no indication that the storing of such information on private servers can be adequately protected being accessed by a private entity,” it said.

The petitioner said mandating Aadhaar-based KYC was against public interest and privacy of information.

“The petitioner is aggrieved as a citizen, because no database is secured from being breached, and a private telecom service provider, should not have access to such sensitive data. Being an Aadhaar card holder, the petitioner does not wish to have his data unnecessarily shared with private telecom service providers, because he entrusted his data to the Government of India, and not to private parties. Citizens have a right to choose what information which they wish to disclose and face the inconvenience associated with the older verification processes,” read the petition.

“This in effect is forcing the citizens to part with their information, whether or not they actually want to part with such information. This is not a case, which is fit for compelled disclosure. There is no overriding State interest which can be accomplished by such linking especially for postpaid subscribers, who have already provided proof of identity and proof of address, including physical verification,” said the petitioner seeking a court order restraining mobile operators from collecting Aadhar details of subscribers.

First published: 23 October 2017, 18:55 IST