Supreme Court raises concerns over use of data analytics to influence elections


"We have seen it", Justice Chandrachud said, alluding to the recent controversy surrounding political consultant Cambridge Analytica's alleged abuse of citizens' data to influence the the 2016 USA election and its reported attempt to influence the outcome of the Brexit referendum. "The real apprehension is the use of social network site data to affect elections in democracies. These problems are symptomatic of the world we live in", the bench, also comprising Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, said.

Expressing concern, Justice DY Chandrachud said that insurance and pharmaceutical companies could use the Aadaar details of patients.

Mr. Dwivedi countered that the UIDAI can not be compared to any Cambridge Analytica.

The court was hearing a batch of petitions, including by former Karnataka High Court Judge K.S. Puttuswamy, Magsaysay awardee Shanta Sinha, feminist researcher Kalyani Sen Menon, social activists Aruna Roy, Nikhil De, Nachiket Udupa and others challenging the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar scheme on the touchstone of the fundamental right to privacy.

When Dwivedi said that apprehensions about the misuse of data were "not real", Chandrachud insisted they were.

The bench, which posed several searching questions, asked the lawyer why the authorities were allowing private entities to use the Aadhaar platform for various purposes and referred to the legal provision to this effect. So the courts can direct private players whenever there are excesses, he said.

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He also referred to private companies like Reliance venturing into the defence sector and said at some point in time, the court will have to decide the aspect where private firms were dealing with public functions of the state, which are now being carried out by public sector companies. Besides the UIDAI can refuse a private enterprise from becoming a requesting entity under the Aadhaar Act.

In a disconcerting revelation, the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) on Tuesday told a CJI-headed Constitution bench of the Supreme Court that Google and the smart card lobby did not want Aadhaar to succeed.

Mr. Dwivedi sought to reply to allegations made by the petitioners that Aadhaar reduces a person to a number, robbing him of his individuality.

"No data protection law can provide hundred percent protection". He submitted that data protection should be "fair, reasonable and just". Diwedi said it is not that human beings are numbered but every individual is identified by means of a number.

He added that Aadhaar ensures that real beneficiaries are not deprived of benefits and frauds are kept at bay. We have seen this happening.

The advancing of arguments remained inconclusive and would resume tomorrow.