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India’s biometric ID system in court battle over right to privacy

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Legal challenges to the Indian government’s ambitious biometric ID programme spurred the country’s Supreme Court on Wednesday to debate whether privacy was a fundamental right under the constitution.

Several petitions before the court question the legal basis of the Unique Identification project, which aims to provide every resident with a number linked to a database with records of personal details and biometric data.

india-biometric-athar cardOfficials take the thumb impression of a slum dweller in the Indian city of Mumbai on July 1, 2016, as part of the SRA Biometric Slum Survey Project. Legal challenges to the Indian government’s ambitious national-level biometric ID programme spurred the Supreme Court on July 19, 2017, to debate whether privacy was a fundamental right under the constitution. (Credit Image: © Subhash Sharma via ZUMA Wire) Photo: Subhash Sharma/dpa

The 22 petitions joined together by the Supreme Court challenge the project on various grounds, including infringement of the right to privacy, the use and sharing of the data collected, and the government making participation mandatory in order to receive welfare benefits.

“But first the court has to decide whether the right to privacy is a fundamental right,” said lawyer and rights activist Prashant Bhushan, who is representing one of the petitioners.

Earlier decisions of the court in 1954 and in 1962 had held that privacy was not a fundamental right.

Once a nine-judge bench decided on the privacy issue, a smaller bench would take up issues raised in the petitions, Bhushan said.

It was unclear when the court will issue its ruling.

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