The Supreme Court asked the government on Thursday how could bank accounts be suspended and then frozen if one fails to link it with Aadhaar number. A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, hearing petitions challenging Aadhaar and its enabling 2016 law, also questioned certain provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and Rules made under it.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testimony before the US Congress was also mentioned to emphasise that technology was a powerful enabler of mass surveillance.

“Can you deprive a person of his property (money)? Can a rule be made beyond the scope of the law? The consequence here leads to deprivation. One cannot withdraw his own money as the account is not linked… first, the account is suspended and then it may be blocked after six months. Can you do this,” asked the bench, which also comprised Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan.

Financial institutions such as, banks, insurance and credit cards, have been asking customers to share their Aadhaar number. Not only financial services, even telecom companies have asked to link mobile with the Aadhaar number . Earlier the deadline was December 31st, 2017 but later it got extended till March 31st, 2018. In the recent hearing the Supreme Court postponed the linking of Aadhaar till the matter is heard and judgement is pronounced by the constitution bench.

The bench said that at the time of opening bank accounts identity documents are already shared with banks. Then what was the need of mandatory seeding of accounts with Aadhaar. It asked can the Centre make non-seeding of accounts punishable through Rules.

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing UIDAI, referred to the PMLA and its Rules and said amendments were made considering the larger public interest.”Rules become part of the law once passed by Parliament,” Mehta said, adding that the consequence like suspension of bank accounts fell under reasonable restrictions prescribed under Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution.

The counsel referred to the Aadhaar law and said the UIDAI had no power to analyse data at all and “I challenge the other side to show us the provision to that effect and if that power is there, then please strike that down”.

Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and the Gujarat government said “Suppose the Apollo Hospital seeks authentication of my Aadhaar number, UIDAI would authenticate without knowing as to which Apollo hospital I have visited and for what kind of treatment.” The bench said UIDAI may not be knowing the details, but there were possibilities of commercial misuse of the information at the end of the “requesting entity” and said at present, “we do not have a robust data protection law”.

“You (UIDAI) control what you can control,” the bench said, referring the misuse of data and meta data at the end of public and private entities which seek authentication of Aadhaar of citizens from UIDAI.

The bench gave the example that even judges in an African country can get the access to his or her chamber by using his finger prints, which are used only for the purpose of the entry and the problem was that such data was being stored at a central repository.

With Inputs from PTI