New Delhi, India - India's top court on Wednesday upheld the constitutional validity of a controversial national ID (Aadhaar) card project after hearing extensive arguments around surveillance and privacy concerns. The top court was examining the constitutional validity of Aadhaar, whether or not citizens can be forced to enrol, and whether the government can make it mandatory to connect these IDs to bank accounts and mobile phones. The top court barred private companies from accessing the data and also directed that schools, banks and telecom companies can not make Aadhaar mandatory for availing their services. A dissenting judge on the five-judge bench, however, said the project "in its entirety is unconstitutional". A majority judgement of three judges, was, however, not convinced that Aadhaar violated the right to privacy.
India's Supreme Court has declared the right to individual privacy "intrinsic" and fundamental to dignified human existence under the country's constitution, but does not, however, consider it absolute. "The right to privacy is implicit in the right to life and liberty guaranteed to the citizens of this country by Article 21. It is a'right to be let alone'," the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday. While the court is yet to specify what privacy looks like, it said citizens have the right to safeguard the privacy of their home, family life, marriage, procreation, sexual orientation, and education, among other matters. "None can publish anything concerning the above matters without his consent -- whether truthful or otherwise and whether laudatory or critical.
"Indians in general have yet to understand the meaning and essence of privacy," says Member of Parliament, Tathagata Satpathy. But on Feb. 3, privacy was the hot topic of debate among many in India, thanks to a tweet that showed random people being identified on the street via Aadhaar, India's ubiquitous database that has biometric information of more than a billion Indians. That's how India Stack, the infrastructure built by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), welcomed OnGrid, a privately owned company that is going to tap on the world's largest biometrics system, conjuring images of Minority Report style surveillance. SEE ALSO: Inside India's plan to substitute cash with its citizen's fingerprints Not long ago, there were more people in India without a birth or school certificate than those with one (PDF). They had no means to prove their identity.