14:32 GMT +322 October 2019
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    An Indian bank employee (L) explains to visitors about account transactions from a mobile phone with a Aadhaar or Unique Identification (UID) card during a Digi Dhan Mela, held to promote digital payment, in Hyderabad on January 18, 2017

    India Debates Privacy Concerns Against Gov’t Push on Biometric IDs

    © AFP 2019 / Noah SEELAM
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    Citizens don’t have “absolute” rights over their bodies, the top lawyer for the Indian government said in a court hearing on the government’s push to link a biometric-based identity system with tax filing and other transactions. The lawyer termed privacy concerns raised by citizens as “bogus.”

    New Delhi (Sputnik) — Commonly referred to as Aadhaar, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) cards contain biometric information such as blood type and fingerprints that are stored in encrypted format. Launched by Narendra Modi's predecessor the Dr. Manmohan Singh-led Congress government to improve the delivery of government services, the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dispensation has pushed it to new heights. Now, almost all major government services involving financial transactions need the feeding of Aadhar numbers.

    The service was initially based on voluntary participation, but a recent move by the BJP government to link Aadhar to another identification system for filing income tax returns, the Permanent Account Number (PAN) has created much outrage among citizens with multiple litigations filed against the government in the court.

    "Today, you have black money which is being used in drug financing and terror financing. So it was decided to bring in a more robust system by which identity of a person cannot be faked," PTI quoted Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi telling a bench comprising Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan.

    The top court is hearing three pleas challenging the government's decision to make Aadhaar mandatory for filing income tax returns as well as for obtaining and retaining PAN. Rohatgi cited data from the income tax department which has canceled about one million fake PAN cards out of nearly three million card holders.

    In contrast, the government has already issued over 1.13 billion Aadhar cards and not found any cases of duplication or multiplicity of cards. Rohatgi described the biometric system used to create these unique number based cards "foolproof". The government has also saved over $7.8 billion on the benefit schemes for the poor and other benefits where pilferage and leakage are a common concern, said Rohatgi.

    But journalists, activists and other members of civil society, including MPs, don't agree with the government's stand and question the policy to make Aadhar mandatory for income tax returns and other services.

    According to the provisions of Finance Act 2017, the Aadhaar number or Aadhaar enrolment number will be mandatory to file tax returns and to apply for a new PAN. Further, an existing PAN can be declared void if the taxpayer does not link it with Aadhaar within the period that will be notified by the government.

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