Is privacy a fundamental right? Supreme Court to decide today
A nine-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India JS Khehar will decide on Thursday if privacy is a fundamental right, a judgment that will have a bearing on civil rights as well as Aadhaar.
The privacy verdict comes two days after the court in a landmark judgment struck down the Islamic divorce practice of instant triple talaq as unconstitutional.
The other members of the bench, which will assemble at 10.30am, are justice J Chelameswar, justice RK Agarwal, justice SA Bobde, justice AM Sapre, justice RF Nariman, justice DY Chandrachud, justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and justice S Abdul Nazeer.
The CJI, who retires on August 27, and justice Nazeer, both of whom dissented, and justice Nariman were among the five judges who also heard petitions against triple talaq.
Privacy is central to the legal challenges facing Aadhaar, the 12-digit biometric unique identity number, which has raised data breach and privacy concerns. Critics also say it helps the government spy on people.
The government is pushing for Aadhaar to plug leaks in various welfare schemes. Aadhaar is mandatory for availing welfare benefits, filing income-tax returns, and opening bank accounts.
Petitioners have argued Aadhaar violates privacy because it requires finger printing and iris scans. Before taking up Aadhaar petitions, the court said, it first needed to decide if privacy was a fundamental right.
The government says citizens have a right to privacy but it is not an absolute right. The Constitution framers included all rights but consciously kept out the right to privacy.
Judges have differed with the government, saying, “Textually it is correct today that there is no right to privacy in the constitution. But even freedom of press is not expressly stated. This court has interpreted it.”
The Centre has urged the court to restrain itself from making any declaration because privacy has different aspects and couldn’t be seen in isolation, saying it was a “conglomerate of rights”.
The government has also stressed on the need to balance the privacy with social and economic justice, saying it is an elite concept and only “wrong-doers” ask for privacy rights.
The petitioners have argued the right to privacy is at the heart of liberty and freedom. Liberty existed prior to constitutional era and law merely recognised its existence. Liberty is fundamental to democracy and citizens cannot exist without privacy, they have said.
Thursday will reveal the winning argument.