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Thursday, Dec 12, 2019

How SC's ruling on individual privacy could impact social media, moral policing

A list of possible protections that are implicit from the order by the 9-judge bench.

india Updated: Aug 24, 2017 20:13 IST
Binayak Dasgupta
Binayak Dasgupta
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
The ruling is an important milestone in shaping how India’s democracy treats its citizens.
The ruling is an important milestone in shaping how India’s democracy treats its citizens. (AP file)
         

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Thursday that individual privacy is a fundamental right, a verdict that will affect everything from the way companies handle personal data to how much the government can keep a tab on its citizens.

The ruling is an important milestone in shaping how India’s democracy treats its citizens. It settles a debate that arose from the legal challenges to the Aadhaar programme, which activists said infringes upon individual privacy by recording biometric details and since it is must for a number of other obligations such as filing income tax returns.

The order could also shield people from intrusion by non-government entities. Here’s a list of possible protections that are implicit from the order by the 9-judge bench:

WhatsApp privacy

The top court is hearing a petition challenging the policy of widely-used mobile messaging service WhatsApp to share user data with its parent Facebook. Thursday’s order not only singles out technology for being a challenge to privacy, but also recognises that an understanding between two people cannot be the basis for a third person to infringe upon someone’s privacy.

“It was rightly expressed on behalf of the petitioners that the technology has made it possible to enter a citizen’s house without knocking at his/her door and this is equally possible both by the State and non-State actors. It is an individual’s choice as to who enters his house, how he lives and in what relationship.”

“If the individual permits someone to enter the house it does not mean that others can enter the house”

- Justice SK Kaul

Protection from moral police

In being specific about right to privacy from state and non-state actors, justice Kaul also mentions a person’s freedom in choosing relationships. This implies that people such as vigilante groups that hunt couples in parks and neighbourhoods that restrict single people of opposite genders from meeting are violating a fundamental rights.

“When the courts identify an infringement of a person’s Article 8 rights, and in particular in the context of his freedom to conduct his sex life and personal relationships as he wishes, it is right to afford a remedy and to vindicate that right.”

- Justice SK Kaul

Keeping away paparazzi

Justice Kaul said the weight of public opinion and interest in comparison to protect an individual’s privacy was a crucial aspect in determining rights to privacy. He quoted a defamation suit involving model Naomi Campbell who was photographed by a British tabloid at a drug rehab. The UK court wondered if the damage to Campbell’s privacy could be weighed against the gains of her drug problem triggering a wider public discussion on the issue of narcotics.

“It is yet to be determined how far that doctrine will be taken in the courts of this jurisdiction in relation to photography in public places. If taken literally, it would mean a very significant change in what is permitted. It would have a profound effect on the tabloid and celebrity culture to which we have become accustomed in recent years.”

- Justice SK Kaul