The Supreme Court today directed the Centre to immediately withdraw the instruction, if any, issued by it for making Aadhaar card mandatory for citizens to avail government services.
"If there are any instructions that Aadhaar is mandatory, it should be withdrawn immediately" a bench of justices B S Chauhan and J Chelameswar said while staying the order of the Goa bench of the Bombay High Court directing sharing of data collected for issuing Aadhaar card to citizens with CBI for solving a rape case.
The bench said biometric or any other data should not be shared with any authorities unless the accused gives consent in writing.
The probe agency had sought the data base, including biometrics of persons from Goa, so that those could be compared with the ones obtained from the crime scene for the purpose of investigating rape of a minor girl in a school premises in Vasco.
The apex court had in its September 2013 interim order said Aadhaar card be not (not) made mandatory for people for availing government services and nobody should be deprived of such facilities for want of the card.
The bench passed the order on a petition filed by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) challenging the High Court order which asked it to consider sharing biometric data collected from people with CBI in order to help the investigating agency solve a rape case in Vasco.
The High Court had in an February 26 interim order directed the Director-General, Central Forensic and Scientific Laboratory (CFSL), New Delhi, to appoint an expert to ascertain if its data base has the technological capability for matching the chance fingerprints electronically obtained.
UIDAI had contended the order would set a bad precedent, besides opening floodgates of similar requests by various investigative agencies/ police calling for information, including biometrics of residents, for the purpose of investigation.
It said biometric data cannot be shared without the consent of the resident and as per its current data-sharing policy and guidelines.
In its plea, UIDAI submitted more than 60 crore residents have enrolled themselves for Aadhaar by providing their demographic and biometric information for civilian application only and sharing the data would endanger the fundamental rights of the citizens.
"Building a system that can search using latent fingerprints, quite like criminal database searches, is not within the constitutional and legal mandate and scope of UIDAI and fundamentally against the core reason residents have provided their data voluntarily to UIDAI," the petition said.
"The right to privacy is one of the basic human rights of an individual and UIDAI is committed to protect this aspect," it said.
UIDAI came into existence on January 28, 2009, for providing 12-digit Aadhaar number to those citizens who registered themselves. Its purpose is envisaged as a means to enhance delivery of welfare benefits and services.
The number is stored in a secure database and linked to the basic demographics and biometric information photograph, 10 fingerprints and iris of each individual.
The apex court is also seized with a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Aadhaar card with those opposing the mega project saying it was not backed by any statute and compromises with national security.
Among the petitioners are Justice K Puttaswamy, former high court judge and Major General S G Vombatkere, who retired as Additional Director General, Discipline & Vigilance in Army HQ, also sought to restrain the Centre, the Planning Commission and UIDAI from issuing Aadhaar cards by way of an executive order of January 28, 2009.