Aadhar logo sits on UIDAI website. (Photographer: Anirudh Saligrama/BloombergQuint)

World’s Largest Digital ID Operator Faces Suit for Data Leaks

(Bloomberg) -- An Indian high court has agreed to hear a plea seeking damages from the operator of world’s largest biometric database for alleged failure to adopt adequate security measures that led to data leaks.

A two-judge bench headed by Justice S. Ravindra Bhat of Delhi High Court has asked the Unique Identification Authority of India, which is providing digital ID to over a billion Indians based on their biometrics, to submit a written response to the petition filed by a law professor. The body has six weeks to reply and the court will hear the case next on November 19.

India has collected biometric and demographic details of over 1.1 billion people to assign a unique 12 digit identification code called ’Aadhaar’ number to its residents. Despite government’s claims of data protection measures including 13-feet high walls, unending reports of leaks have raised concerns over security of the huge database that is used for services ranging from opening a bank account to getting cooking gas connections.

In his petition, Shamnad Basheer has urged the court to form an expert panel to investigate and quantify financial damages due to the data leak. The authority claims its protection measures are fool proof and the program has helped the government bring transparency and save billions of rupees in disbursement of social sector benefits to poor.

“The inability of respondent to secure the identity information of Aadhaaris, including that of the petitioner, has resulted in a serious and egregious violation of the fundamental right to privacy and dignity,” Basheer said in his petition.

India’s Supreme Court had last year ruled that privacy is an inalienable fundamental right and is expected to give a ruling on legal validity of Aadhaar program in coming months. Lawyers and activists had challenged the database’s validity claiming it violates citizens’ privacy and lays a design for surveillance state. The government had denied the claims in the top court.

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