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Saturday, Aug 17, 2019

SC declares right to privacy is fundamental: What was the debate about?

Do they have the right to choose to share or not to share with others (the government included) information about their private life?

india Updated: Aug 24, 2017 11:24 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
A visitor gives a thumb impression to withdraw money from his bank account with his Aadhaar  card during a Digi Dhan Mela, held to promote digital payment, in Hyderabad in January 2017.
A visitor gives a thumb impression to withdraw money from his bank account with his Aadhaar card during a Digi Dhan Mela, held to promote digital payment, in Hyderabad in January 2017. (AFP File Photo)

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.

What is privacy?

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.

Is privacy an Indian citizen’s right?

The Supreme Court’s landmark judgment unequivocally declares privacy a guaranteed fundamental right.

In July, the government had told the apex court that privacy is a fundamental right but it is “conditional”. K K Venugopal, India’s senior most legal officer, told the court India’s “constitution-makers deliberately omitted privacy as a fundamental right”, but it is similar to the right to liberty that Article 21 of the constitution guarantees. Every aspect of privacy cannot be elevated as a fundamental right, said Venugopal.

How is privacy protected in India?

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.

Why does privacy matter?

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.

Big Brother watching?

Aadhaar has immense potential for profiling and surveillance, say critics. 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.

Private data safety

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. But this, an HT story warned, makes Aadhaar data vulnerable to attacks and misuse.

First Published: Aug 24, 2017 11:00 IST

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