SC says privacy is fundamental right, ruling may impact Aadhaar, gay sex law
Individual privacy is a “guaranteed fundamental right”, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday, a landmark verdict that could now test the validity of Aadhaar, the controversial biometric identification project the government has been pushing but critics have opposed as intrusive.
Issuing a unanimous ruling, the nine-judge bench said right to privacy was at par with right to life and liberty, and that the verdict will protect citizens’ personal freedom from intrusions by the state. (UPDATES)
The Aadhaar law will now be tested against Thursday’s right to privacy judgment, lawyers in the case said. The judgment also has a bearing on broader civil rights as well as a law criminalising homosexuality. A ban imposed on the consumption of beef in many states and alcohol in some could also come up for review.
“This right to privacy is protected under Article 21 and it is intrinsic to the Constitution,” said Chief Justice of India J S Khehar, reading out the verdict for the nine-judge bench. Article 21 guarantees the right to life and liberty as inviolable fundamental rights.
The central government has been pushing for the wide use of Aadhaar, saying it is necessary to plug leakages in its subsidy schemes and to ensure benefits reach those targeted. But critics say the move violates privacy, is vulnerable to data breaches and helps government spy on people.
This led to multiple petitions in court challenging Aadhaar on the question of privacy.
The government had argued citizens have a right to privacy but it is not an absolute right. But petitioners in the case contended that the right to privacy is at the heart of liberty and freedom.
In upholding privacy as a fundamental right, the top court overruled all earlier judgements that had said the right to privacy was not part of the Constitution.
In a quick reaction, the opposition Congress, which had launched Aadhaar when it was in power, welcomed the verdict.
“Path breaking and seminal judgment. A great victory for liberty and freedom... Supreme Court rejects Modi government’s attempt to whittle down the right to privacy,” party’s chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala tweeted.
Thursday’s verdict comes two days after the court in a landmark judgment struck down the Islamic divorce practice of instant triple talaq as unconstitutional.