August 24, 2017 / 2:12 PM / 2 years ago

India's push to broaden use of its biometric database

(Reuters) - India’s Supreme Court ruled on Thursday the right to privacy is a fundamental right protected by the Indian Constitution, in a potential setback to the government’s push to mandate the use of Aadhaar, or unique ID numbers for a variety of routine tasks.

FILE PHOTO: A woman goes through the process of eye scanning for Unique Identification (UID) database system in the outskirts of the western Indian city of Ahmedabad February 13, 2013. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Over a billion Indians have already registered for Aadhaar cards, which ascribe unique ID numbers, and record fingerprints and iris scans of each person. The database was originally set-up to streamline welfare benefit payments and reduce wastage.

The current government however, has been keen to mandate the use of Aadhaar for everything from the filing of income taxes to the operating of one’s bank accounts. Below is a timeline on the various Aadhaar developments:

March 2006: India’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology approves a Unique ID (UID) scheme for poor families.

December 2006: Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) constituted to collate two schemes -the National Population Register under the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the UID scheme.

2007: At its first meeting, the EGoM recognizes need to create a residents database. This leads to the creation of Aadhaar.

2009: The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is created to issue unique identification numbers. Nandan Nilekani appointed the first chairman.

December 2010: The National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 (NIAI Bill) introduced in Parliament.

September 2011: Number of Aadhaar holders crosses 100 million.

December 2011: Standing committee on Finance rejects NIAI Bill in initial form; recommends requirement of privacy legislation and data protection law before continuance of scheme.

2012: Former High Court judge files petition contending that Aadhaar violates fundamental rights of equality and privacy.

September 2013: Supreme Court passes interim order stating no person should suffer for not having an Aadhaar card.

December 2013: The number of Aadhaar holders crosses 510 million

March 2014: The Supreme Court revokes orders made by agencies demanding Aadhaar for welfare schemes. Court also forbids UIDAI from sharing information in the Aadhaar database with any agency without the individual’s consent.

December 2014: Number of Aadhaar holders crosses 720 million.

August 2015: Three-judge bench of Supreme Court limits use of Aadhaar to certain welfare schemes, orders that no one should be denied benefits for lack of an Aadhaar card. It refers question of right to privacy as a fundamental right to a constitution bench.

February 2016: Number of Aadhaar holders crosses 980 million.

FILE PHOTO: An operator works on his table while enrolling villagers for the Unique Identification (UID) database system at an enrolment centre at Merta district in the desert Indian state of Rajasthan February 21, 2013. REUTERS/Mansi Thapliyal

March 2016: Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial & Other Subsidies, Benefits & Services) Bill introduced as a money bill in the lower house of parliament. Bill passed by Parliament; receives presidential assent.

January-March 2017: Various ministries make Aadhaar mandatory for welfare, pension, and employment schemes. Aadhaar made mandatory for filing of income tax returns. Aadhaar holders crosses 1.14 billion.

[Data compiled from Software Freedom Law Centre and State of Aadhaar Report 2016-17]

Compiled by Abhirup Roy and Devidutta Tripathy

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