The Union Cabinet on Thursday approved the promulgation of Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2019, which amends relevant laws to comply with a Supreme Court judgement passed in September 2018. The Lok Sabha had passed a bill for the purpose on January 4, but the Rajya Sabha had not voted on it yet.

In December, the Cabinet had approved the amendments to provisions under the Aadhaar Act, the Telegraph Act and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

The amendment to the Telegraph Act makes Aadhaar-based identification for mobile phone services voluntary and prohibits the storage of either the Aadhaar number or the biometric data linked to it. A similar amendment to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act enables banking firms to use customers’ Aadhaar on a voluntary basis.

The amendments make it clear that a service cannot be denied for want of Aadhaar. This follows the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act, which had made the use of Aadhaar mandatory for availing various services. After the amendments become law, Aadhaar will become only one of several ways citizens can use to identify themselves for phone and banking services.

A new clause to the Aadhaar Act, Section 8A, makes it mandatory to obtain a user’s consent for offline verification of their identity and requires that the information thus collected be used for the sole purpose of verification. The changes include a definition of the “Aadhaar ecosystem” as covering enrolment agencies, registrars, verification entities and any other entity specified by the regulations. Violating the regulations would attract stringent penalties, including a prison term of up to 10 years.

Under the amendments, Aadhaar users can opt for offline verification without needing to share their biometric ID. Children enrolled for Aadhaar by their parents will also be able to opt out after they turn 18 if the amendments are approved in the Upper House too.

The Supreme Court’s verdict in September, passed by a 4:1 majority, had come after several petitioners raised concerns about privacy and asked why the unique identity number was made mandatory for people to avail of welfare schemes, file income tax returns, hold mobile numbers, and bank accounts. The court made Aadhaar optional for mobile phones and bank accounts but said it would still need to be linked with Permanent Account Numbers to file income tax returns.

The amendments, however, do not comply with the court’s order regarding the Aadhaar Act’s surveillance provisions, which were specifically struck down for want of proper oversight.