A circular by the Telecom Ministry directs all phone connections to be linked to Aadhaar by February 2018.

Mandatory to link phone number with Aadhaar How Telecom Ministry has misinterpreted SCPTI/ Representational Image
news Aadhaar Monday, September 18, 2017 - 17:08

Have you received an SMS from your telecom provider asking you to link your Aadhaar to your mobile number? Or face the risk of your mobile getting deactivated?

Telecom operators across the country are urging their subscribers to link their Aadhaar number to their mobile phones despite the fact that the Supreme Court is yet to pass an order on whether Aadhaar infringes upon the right to privacy.

According to reports, telecom operators are still going by a Department of Telecommunications (DoT) circular issued in March 2017 before the Supreme Court started hearing the Aadhaar case.

The circular directs all phone connections in the country to be be linked to Aadhaar by February 2018.

The DoT circular cites a Supreme Court “directive” made on February 6, 2017. The observation was made by a two-judge bench which was hearing a writ petition filed by Lokniti Foundation seeking verification and identity of every mobile phone subscriber.

Chitranshul Sinha, a Supreme Court lawyer in his article in the  Huffington Post argues that the DoT has made an “erroneous conclusion”, based on a misinterpretation of the apex court “observation”.

Pointing out that the government had informed the Supreme Court that a number of people do not hold Aadhaar cards and that Aadhaar was not mandatory for obtaining a new telephone connection, Sinha writes, “There can be no question of Aadhaar being made mandatory for re-verification of existing users when it is not even mandatory for obtaining new connections. Therefore, the circular, by stating that the Supreme Court has directed the DoT to mandate Aadhaar as the exclusive method for re-verification, is misleading the public at large, intentionally or unintentionally.”

Pinning the blame on DoT, Sinha goes on to highlight that the Telecom Ministry has chosen to bypass a March 2017 interim order of the Supreme Court stating that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for welfare schemes, and has instead erroneously relied on another apex court observation.

But Sinha notes that until the DoT circular is struck down by a High Court or the Supreme Court, telecom operators will be bound to follow it.

Another report in the Live Law states the February 6 order was passed based on the submissions made by then Attorney General, Mukul Rohatgi who said the DoT has launched Aadhaar-based Know Your Customer for issuing mobile connections.

But the article points out that the Attorney General did not mention that a different bench of the SC had made Aadhaar enrolment optional.

Moreover, it also notes that the three-judge bench did not explore other forms of verification since the matter is under legal scrutiny.

In a landmark judgment made on August 24, 2017 by a nine-judge bench, the SC declared that privacy is a fundamental right.

This paved way for the five-judge Constitution Bench to decide whether the methods of collecting and storing biometric and demographic data for Aadhaar violate the privacy rights of citizens.

While the government has been pushing Aadhaar aggressively making it mandatory for linking it for various purposes across different departments, privacy advocates have been vocal in its opposition to the issue.

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