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Delhi High Court wants to know if the UIDAI can help the police identify a murder suspect

The UIDAI pushed back against the request in court, citing data sharing restrictions under the Aadhaar Act, 2016.

The Delhi High Court has sought a status report from the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) on whether it can help the Delhi Police identify a suspect using its Aadhaar biometric database for an investigation, without violating provisions of the Aadhaar Act, 2016, according to an Indian Express report. The Delhi Police had asked the court to intervene so that the UIDAI could run crime scene fingerprints and suspect photographs through its database and help identify the suspect.

“Of course you will not supply it. You will not be sharing it. They will give you the biometric, fingerprints. If it tallies, you will tell that it will tally with this person. You will not share with them (the biometric information), certainly not,” Justice Mukta Gupta is quoted as saying in the report.

Section 29 of the Aadhaar Act prohibits the sharing of Aadhaar biometric data even for the purposes of aiding police investigations. But the Delhi Police’s petition was filed under section 33 (1) of the Aadhaar Act under which a High Court judge can issue directions to the UIDAI to share identity information in certain cases.

The outcome of this case could potentially encourage police forces in other states to similarly approach the UIDAI for such purposes. The matter has been listed for hearing next on April 28, although the UIDAI has been asked to file its status report within 4 weeks.

What is the case?

According to the Indian Express, the investigation pertains to a 2018 case where a jeweller was murdered by robbers in his shop in Delhi. While 14 fingerprints and CCTV footage were taken from the area, the police in their petition said that the prints and the photo found no match with the Delhi police’s fingerprint bureau and facial recognition system respectively. An award of Rs 25,000 was also announced to get clues in the case but to no avail.

UIDAI’s arguments against sharing the data

The following arguments were reportedly made before the court:

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  • There was a clear restriction on sharing or matching of any biometric information under the Act, Nidhi Raman appearing for UIDAI said, adding that a person could not even ask for their own data.
  • The matter was also pending before the Supreme Court and a division bench of the High Court, she further added.
  • Mentioning that there was a ‘technology issue’, she said that there is no 1:n (1 is to many) sharing. “Under the technology of Aadhaar card, it has to be done on a 1:1 basis. Only if it matches with that particulars,” Raman said.

Police’s dependence on Aadhaar data in the past

In spite of it being illegal under section 29 of the Aadhaar Act for law enforcement agencies to use Aadhaar biometric data, various state police departments have created their own databases of repeat offenders, criminals, or customers of weapons manufacturers, linked to their Aadhaar numbers.

In October 2021, the Madurai district and city police reportedly asked weapons manufacturers and sellers of knives, billhooks, and sickles to obtain the personal details of their customers, including Aadhaar numbers, amidst a rise in crimes in the district.

In 2017, Telangana police officials reportedly went across the state to collect the Aadhaar details of listed offenders. They asked them to produce their Aadhaar cards, took photographs of the IDs, and recorded the fingerprints of the individuals on their mobile phones.

That year, Madhya Pradesh police also reportedly created an Aadhaar-linked database of around 3,000 repeat offenders

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I cover health technology for MediaNama, among other things. Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

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