Lok Sabha Passes Aadhaar Amendment Bill 2018

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The LS today approved Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill 2018 to amend the prevailing laws in relation to the use of biometric data for authentication of identity for the purposes of grant of services, benefits and subsidies.

The bill was forwarded with small debate by the house in presence of a low appearance.

The Constitution Bench of the SC in the judgment conveyed on September 26, 2018 had upheld the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar Act by 4:1 majority, with some restrictions and changes. The compulsory use of Aadhaar based KYC for mobile connections and bank accounts was prohibited by the Supreme Court.

The Bill was tabled by Union Minister for Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad on Wednesday. It alters the Aadhaar Act 2016 to allow the enrolment of children to the scheme with the consent of their parents or guardian. It also contains a provision enabling the children to seek cancellation of their Aadhaar number on attaining majority. The SC judgment had ordered the Government to bring in these changes. The Bill also elucidates that no child should be denied any benefit or subsidy for want of Aadhaar.

It also provides for voluntary use of Aadhaar for taking mobile connections and opening bank accounts. Other salient features of the Bill are:

Offline verification: Offline verification is the use of Aadhaar number to incorporate identity without authentication using biometric data or other electronic means. The Bill allows offline verification of Aadhaar no. for identification purposes. As per the present Act, Aadhaar number without electronic authentication cannot be utilised to verify identity.

Virtual ID: The Bill changes meaning of ‘aadhaar number’ to include ‘virtual ID’, in addition to the 12 digit number. The Virtual ID authorises one to verify identity without providing aadhaar number.

High Court judge can order disclosure: The authority who can issue decree to disclose Aadhaar information is changed as ‘High Court judge’ from ‘District Judge’ as per Section 33(1).

Right of hearing before disclosure order : The Bill lists that the possessor of the Aadhar number should be heard before issuing such decree.The SC had read down Section 33(1) to include right of hearing for the Aadhaar number-holder.

Secretary authorised to order disclosure in the interest of national security: The authority competent to issue decree of disclosure of Aadhaar information in the interests of national security is proposed to be changed as “Secretary” from “Joint Secretary” as per Section 33(2). The SC had held that an officer above the rank of Joint Secretary should be taking such decisions.

No denial of services due to authentication failure: The Bill clarifies that failure in authentication of Aadhaar number due to old-age, sickness, or technical reasons should not result in denial of any service, benefit or subsidy. It states that different means to verify identity should be used in such cases.

Civil penalties: The Bill proposes a new chapter specifying civil penalties for collection, use and disclosure of Aadhaar information in contravention with the violation of the provisions of the Act. The maximum penalty listed is Rs. 1 crore.

TDSAT & SC as appellate authorities: The TDSAT is made the appellate authority for considering challenge against imposition of civil penalties. An appeal provision to the Supreme Court is contained in the Bill, against the orders of TDSAT.

Congnizance can be taken on complaint of holder of Aadhaar number: Section 47 is sought to be amended to enable the Court to take cognizance on the complaint made by the holder of Aadhaar number, who is the victim of offences committed under the Act. As per the existing Act, cognizance can be taken only on a complaint by UIDAI.

Omission of Section 57: Section 57 of the Act permitted private entities to use Aadhaar number for authenticating identity before disbursement of services. The provision was struck down by the Supreme Court. The Bill proposes to omit the Section.

Use of Aadhaar by telecom service providers

The Bill proposes to revise the Indian Telegraph Act, 1855 to provide for voluntary use of Aadhaar number for identity verification. The telecom companies, which offers services as licensees under the Telegprah Act, are permitted to use Aadhaar number for verification of identity. Offline verification using Aadhaar is also allowed. However, the Bill does not say that Aadhaar has to be mandatorily used for verification. Aadhaar, including its offline verification method, is clarified as one of the means of identity verification. It may be seen that the the circular issued by the Department of Telecommunications on March 23,2017 mandating compulsory linkage of mobile numbers with Aadhaar was removed by the SC on the ground that the circular had no statutory backing. The Bill seeks to fill up that void.

Bank accounts and Aadhaar:

The Bill initiates amendment to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act to allow optional use of Aadhaar for identity verification by banks before opening bank accounts. As in the case of mobile connections, Aadhaar is mentioned as one of the ways of identity verification, and there is no compulsion to use it. The PMLA (Maintainence of Records) (Second Amendment) Rules brought by the Government in 2017 mandating the linking of bank accounts with Aadhaar was also removed by the SC. Presenting the Bill in the Lok Sabha, IT Minister said on Wednesday: “The proposed amendments in the shape of the Bill is being done in compliance with the judgement of the Supreme Court itself. It (Aadhaar) is not mandatory, but voluntary whereby alternative modes of authentication is being provided” He also added that the Bill addressed the gaps pointed out by the SC in the existing law.

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