The Indian government could face a setback to its controversial biometric identification program in light of the country’s latest supreme court ruling. On Thursday, the high court confirmed that all of India’s citizens are entitled to fundamental privacy rights as part of the constitution’s right to life and liberty, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The ruling from the nine judges could be an issue for the country’s Aadhaar system, under which the government gathered iris scan and digital fingerprint data from most of the 1.2 billion citizens of India. After providing that data to the government, Indians have received identification cards, which they can then use to collect government benefits.
Attorneys from Prime Minster Narendra Modi’s government made arguments to the supreme court that any assurance of overall fundamental rights could hurt the country's plan to eradicate poverty and enact social welfare programs in the country via the identification system.
The court, however, sided with the rights of the country's citizens, and that decision could have vast implications for a lawsuit currently pending that questions whether the identity card system is valid as currently designed, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Modi’s administration said it remains confident that the biometric identification program will remain in place and will be ruled legal when it has its day in court. Lawmakers are already interested in broadening the program to share the citizens’ data that it has collected so the government could utilize it for things like tax filing and travel bookings.
Those on the opposing side of the issue have argued that the Aadhaar system lacks the checks and balances required to ensure that citizens’ data doesn't end up in the wrong hands. Maintaining a single database that includes private identification information could be ripe for abuse, hacking or leaks, many critics argue.