The linkage of Aadhaar to phone numbers seems to have taken a different turn as media reports which suggest that The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) announced that Telcos will not disconnect mobile numbers which are not linked to a Aadhaar number till the Supreme Court takes a decision on such issues.
The debate over linking Aadhaar with mobile phone numbers was renewed after the Department of Telecommunicationsreportedly said telcos will not act against unverified subscribers until the Supreme Court decides on the matter.
DoT Secretary Aruna Sundararajan said the government will not disconnect mobile connections of people who do not authenticate their identities with Aadhaar, according to media reports on Wednesday. She said the department is waiting for the Supreme Court judgement on the Aadhaar issue to decide on the action to be taken.
Sundararajan did not immediately respond to an email from ET seeking comment on the reported statements.
The top court is scheduled to hear the mobile-Aadhaar linking issue on November 13 amid concerns over privacy as the government expands the use of the biometric-based identity number, which was intended to verify beneficiaries of welfare programmes and subsidies, to cover services such as mobile telephony, income tax returns, banking and insurance.
The DoT ordered telecom companies in March to carry out biometric authentication of customers after the Supreme Court ruled in February that Aadhaar must be used to verify the identity and address of new mobile phone subscribers and a similar authentication of existing users must be completed within a year.
As the debate over the use of Aadhaar intensified, aspects such as privacy and protection of personal data came into focus. A nine-judge bench of the apex court unanimously ruled in August that privacy is a fundamental right of Indians.
The government defends the use of Aadhaar, saying that once residents enrol, they can use the number to authenticate and establish their identity many times using electronic means. According to the government, Aadhaar enables fairer access of the people to benefits and services. With the Digital India drive, Aadhaar has empowered people by increasing convenience and made their life hassle-free towards a paperless and cashless environment.
According to some activists, there is no legal basis for linking Aadhaar with mobile phone connections.
Anupam Saraph, a professor and governance expert, cited the failed attempt by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India in October 2015 to get the Supreme Court to permit biometric eKYC for paperless activation of telephone connections/SIM cards as an alternative to the existing process of verification of telecom subscribers.
“The five-member bench of the Supreme Court in its orders of October 15, 2015, had clearly rejected this request. No orders of any bench smaller than the five-member bench can overrule these orders,” Saraph said.
The DoT’s order about linking with Aadhaar is a violation of Supreme Court orders in August and October of 2015, which unambiguously state that Aadhaar enrolment is optional, said Mishi Choudhary, legal director at the Software Freedom Law Centre.
Referring to the Supreme Court’s ruling in February, Saraph said the attorney general did not mention the larger bench order where the use of Aadhaar had been restricted to five programmes and he had told the court that Aadhaar and its linked information will not be used for any other purpose.
Somdutta Singh, vice chairperson of the Nasscom Product Council, argued that the apex court had recently concluded that privacy is intrinsic to the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution and will be included under part III of the Constitution.
“Now, because privacy is a constitutionally protected right, linking bank accounts or mobile numbers to Aadhaar leads to ethical hacking,” he said. “When you have a house, who enters your house is your discretion and not a court’s or governing body’s.”