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Aadhaar, the world’s largest biometric database, is allowed in India with safeguards

An Indian citizen is being scanned retina to register on file Aadhaar, Calcutta, May 16, 2012.

The Indian Supreme Court restricts use to public and social services.

The Indian Supreme Court confirmed Wednesday the legality of the world’s largest biometric database, Aadhaar (“foundation” in Hindi), while restricting its scope to public services and social programs of the government. The identification program, launched in 2009, assigned a unique 12-digit ID number to almost the entire Indian population, with fingerprint or iris data. This method of identification is now required to collect retirement pensions, obtain identity documents or benefit from food subsidy programs. Pillar of the “Digital India” policy dear to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist government then extended it to the private sector as for the opening of a bank account or a telephone line.

Opponents of the program feared the creation of a “Big Brother”, a surveillance system that limits the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Indian constitution. They had also brandished the threat of “civilian death” by simply deleting a name, or hacking the database. But the Supreme Court found that the collection of “demographic and biometric information” provided for by the Aadhaar law did not “constitute a violation of the fundamental right to privacy” and that it was difficult to “profile a person on the basis of the minimum biometric information collected ‘. The information collected, other than the biometric data, must be erased after six months. According to the Supreme Court, the program “benefits” from another fundamental right, that of access to social programs, by making it possible to better identify the beneficiaries.

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