The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has appointed an expert group headed by a former Supreme Court judge to draft legislation on data protection even as the Supreme Court hears arguments on whether right to privacy is a fundamental right.
The issues of data protection and privacy are related and the apex court has been hearing cases significantly inclined towards the former. The matter came up after several cases on the applicability and legality of Aadhaar, the ID number issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), were filed in the court.
Aadhaar has become vital for several government welfare schemes and the tax administration system. The Centre also wants to make Aadhaar the backbone of all electronic transactions. However, the absence of privacy and data protection laws against Aadhaar have led to cases on the matter being heard by the court's Constitution Bench.
Former Justice BN Srikrishna led 10-member expert group is being appointed by the MeitY "to study and identify key data protection issues and recommend methods for addressing them," a press release said on August, 1.
It is being constituted to keep "personal data of citizens secure and protected." "Protection of Data is expected to provide big boost to Digital economy of the country," the press release added.
The members of the committee include Department of Telecommunications Secretary Aruna Sundararajan, UIDAI chief Ajay Bhushan Pandey, National Cyber Security Coordinator Gulshan Rai, Indian Institute of Technology Bhilai Director Rajat Moona, Indian Institute of Management Indore Director Rishikesha Krishnan and Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy's Arghya Sengupta.
The UIDAI informed the Supreme Court about the government's decision to set up the expert group on Tuesday. The ministry will have to consult other members, collect information and provide it to the expert group within eight weeks.
Cannot use Aadhaar to track citizens, UIDAI tells SC
The UIDAI had told the SC on Tuesday that it was impossible to use Aadhaar to track citizens because there are safeguards in the law and the system does not allow the government to use the unique identification number for surveillance even if a court allows them to do so.
Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta also said that too much was being made of making the right to privacy a fundamental right. "Nothing is private in the online era," Mehta told the bench that is considering whether privacy is a fundamental right for every Indian.
The UIDAI said that privacy was protected under the law on Aadhaar but was never a constitutional right. It added that the SC does not need to elevate right to privacy to a fundamental right. "It is a right that cannot be defined and is too subjective. What may be the notion of privacy for one person may differ from that of another," Mehta said.
When Justice DY Chandrachud asked what would happen if the Parliament decided tomorrow that Aadhaar was not needed, Justice Rohinton F. Nariman intervened and suggested that the court could recognise right to privacy as a fundamental right and balance it against the interests of Aadhaar.