Right to Privacy is a Fundamental Right, 8 Questions on Privacy Answered
A nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court on Thursday declared privacy to be a fundamental right in a landmark judgment.
The Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice JS Khehar had reserved its verdict on August 2 after a marathon hearing, during which senior counsels advanced arguments in favour and against the deeming right to privacy a fundamental right.
The verdict will have a bearing on whether the government can make Aadhaar mandatory or not. Here is a handy guide explaining what privacy means and how is it protected under Indian laws.
A precise legal definition of ‘privacy’ doesn’t exist. Some legal experts define privacy as a human right and international charters, like the Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, protect persons against “arbitrary interference” with one’s privacy. Privacy can mean a range of things: the right to be left alone, freedom to dissent or protection from state surveillance.
The Supreme Court’s landmark judgment clearly declares privacy a guaranteed fundamental right.
It is noteworthy that the Indian Constitution doesn’t identify the right to privacy as a fundamental right of citizens. The said right is a corollary of Articles 19 and 21, which deal with the rights to life and liberty. Several cases in the past have upheld it as a fundamental right, while others haven’t.
Courts in India have interpreted that the constitution guarantees a limited right to privacy primarily through Article 21, the right to life and liberty. Such court rulings protect citizens’ rights in a range of matters: from freedom of movement to interception of communication.
The public debate about right to privacy arose after the government started collecting biometric data of citizens for Aadhaar. The government is pushing for Aadhaar, saying it is necessary to plug leakages in subsidy schemes and to ensure benefits reach the right people. But critics say the move violates privacy, is vulnerable to data breaches and potentially helps government spy on people.
Many critics arguing that Aadhaar has immense potential for profiling and surveillance. The government can potentially spy on you because every instance of using Aadhaar for authentication or for financial transactions leaves behind logs in the databases of Unique Identification Authority of India, the organisation that oversees implementation of the identity card. Critics have warned that Aadhaar will grant the state an “electronic leash” on citizens and grant the government “sweeping power” to access citizens’ data.
The case came up while the SC was hearing on whether Aadhaar can be made mandatory by the government.
One argument by petitioners against mandatory Aadhaar was that it breached the right to privacy and made personal data vulnerable.
The Centre argued maintained privacy wasn’t a fundamental right. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi even said citizens do not have an “absolute” right on their bodies.
Activist Ancilla says, “India has a population of 1.34bn. If they lose their basic right to privacy, it will be a huge setback for the world.”
Petitioner Shyam Divan argued invasions of bodily integrity can only be allowed under a totalitarian regime.
In the absence of right to privacy in the digital age, any statute can be passed and citizens left helpless, he added.
Considering there have been several times when websites, including government portals, have leaked personal details of lakhs of Aadhaar holders due to “programming errors” or other reasons, Aadhaar does pose a risk to privacy if handled carelessly.
Cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s personal information was leaked by a government-sanctioned Aadhaar enrolment agency in Ranchi in May. Analysts say the government’s decision to hand over the Aadhaar enrolment process to private agencies for a licence fee was wrong and the set-up to secure private details was weak and prone to data mining and hacking. Private companies enrol new users on behalf of UIDAI and authenticate enrolled users when they access an Aadhaar-enabled service.
Source : Hindustan Times