Lok Sabha passes Aadhaar Bill amid Opposition protest over privacy

Topics Aadhaar Bill | Lok Sabha

The Lok Sabha on Thursday passed the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2019, even though the Opposition raised concerns over privacy and the lack of adequate legal safeguards.


The proposed amendments allow, among other things, for voluntary use of the Aadhaar number as a know-your-customer (KYC) mechanism for opening bank accounts and buying SIM cards. “The amendments address the privacy and security concerns. It provides that no service or benefit of any scheme will be denied for the lack of Aadhaar," said Prasad.


The amended Bill also provides for Rs 1 crore penalty and jail term for private entities for storing Aadhaar data. People have the choice to use either mode for verifying their identity.  Referring to the Economic Survey’s recommendation to allow private entities access to select government databases for a price, Nationalist Congress Party Member of Parliament Supriya Sule said it was “shocking”, and asked why the government had not introduced the Data Protection Bill yet.


Several opposition leaders questioned the government on Aadhaar benefiting the private sector, and on the amendment being pushed through before the data protection legislation being passed, which would have some bearing on clauses of the Aadhaar Act.


Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, said the government used the ordinance route to bring in the legislation.


Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra said the Bill strikes at the “very heart of privacy” of citizens. "When you introduce a concept, which is that an offline verification-seeking entity, you created an alternative identity. Why should I give an alternative identity in the hands of private individuals? This is interfering with my relationship with my bank. You are forcing me to give my biometrics by law to a bank or a telecom agency," she said.


The current changes in the Aadhaar Bill were introduced as an amendment in the Telegraph Act and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act to allow telecom companies, banks, and financial institutions to verify the identity of clients by authentication or offline verification of Aadhaar, passport, or any other documents notified by the central government.


Asaduddin Owaisi, President of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, said, “The government is dancing to the tunes of the private industry and commercial profit, rather than privacy protection. This Bill that the minister has moved, is a marriage between state and corporate power, which consolidates and centralises all power in their hands."


It also gives the Unique Identification Authority of India, the agency that administers Aadhaar, the power to issue directions as it may consider necessary, to any entity in the Aadhaar ecosystem.


The Bill had also amended the Aadhaar Act to allow people to register complaints in certain cases, including impersonation or disclosure of their identities, whereas the Aadhaar Act only allowed courts to take cognisance of an offence if UIDAI registered a complaint.

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