Right to Privacy as a Fundamental Right – Implications of the Verdict

Right to Privacy
In a landmark judgement on 24-08-2017,  a nine-judge Supreme Court Constitutional bench declared Right to Privacy is a Fundamental Right. The stand taken by Supreme Court may turn as a massive setback to the Government’s push to link multiple identities with Aadhaar – which is alleged to compromise privacy.

The Petition to declare Privacy as Fundamental Right

It was the Aadhar push by the Central government, which made many citizens file petitions before the Supreme Court – to declare Privacy as Fundamental Right. There were 20+ Aadhar related cases. The petitioners wanted Supreme Court to recognize, among other things, a fundamental right to privacy under the Constitution.

Petitioners included Former Karnataka HCjudge KS Puttaswamy (now 91) and activists Bezwada Wilson, Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey. (Reference: Times of India)

Supreme Court’s earlier verdicts overruled – that too by a 9-0 majority!

Delivering a unanimous verdict, Supreme Court overruled the earlier eight-judge bench judgment in MP Sharma case and six-judge bench judgment in Kharak Singh case – both of which had ruled that privacy is not a Fundamental Right. (Reference: Economic Times)

ClearIAS Prelims Online Test Series

Supreme Court of India has held that right to privacy is a Fundamental Right and it is protected under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. This verdict has a huge impact on the lives of 134 crore Indians.

Decision yet to be taken on the validity of information sharing via Aadhar

The 9-judge bench has not decided the fate of Aadhaar, only the nature and status of the right to privacy under the Constitution.

A five-judge bench of the apex court will test the validity of Aadhaar from the aspect of privacy as a Fundamental Right soon.  Any law, like the Aadhar Act, which seeks to restrict the right to privacy, will now have to be tested on the touchstone of Article 21.

Criticisms of Aadhar Linkage

Privacy as a Fundamental Right

In the wake of data leaks and hacking incidents, Aadhaar critics argue that biometric data linked to the card could be misused by the government agencies.

Centre’s stand on Aadhar Linkage

  • Strongly backing the Aadhaar scheme, the Centre submitted that the right to life of millions of poor in the country through food, shelter and welfare measures was far more important than privacy concerns raised by the elite class.
  • Controversially, Attorney General K K Venugopal arguing for the Centre also stated that privacy claims required better priority in developed countries “not in a country like India where a vast majority of citizens don’t have access to basic needs”.
  • The government was categorical that after enrolling nearly 100 crore citizens spending an astronomical amount of Rs 6,300 crore there was no going back.
  • He said the right to privacy cannot be invoked to scrap the Aadhaar scheme. (Reference: Live Law)

Importance of the Right to Privacy verdict

Privacy Policy

  • Knowingly or unknowingly citizens share a lot of personal data in the technological age. This can be misused not only by Government but also big Companies.
  • Recognising privacy as a fundamental right will create a change in the relationship between the State and the citizen
  • Section 377 of IPC is now questionable.
  • DNA Profiling Bill may violate the right to privacy.
  • This verdict on right to privacy will also challenge the validity of privacy policies of many companies (Eg: WhatsApp’s new privacy policy).
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