Supreme Court's Landmark Ruling Declares Privacy a Fundamental Right

Published: August 24, 2017 - 18:29

The Supreme Court’s landmark ruling is expected to have serious implications for the Whatsapp privacy case and Aadhaar case which are currently being heard in the court

The right to privacy of an individual is a natural, cherished, inseparable and inalienable right which is born with a human being and extinguishes with it, wrote Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre in a separate and concurring judgment as he, along with eight other judges, held that privacy is a Fundamental Right under Article 21 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice JS Khehar, overruled earlier judgments of the top court which had said that privacy may not be a Fundamental Right. The court said that the right to privacy is intrinsic to right to life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21.

The matter had been referred to the bench comprising Justices J Chelameswar, SA Bobde, RK Agarwal, Rohinton F Nariman, Abhaya Manohar Sapre, DY Chandrachud, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Abdul Nazeer, besides Chief Justice Khehar. While the verdict is being hailed as a landmark one, it will have serious implications for the Whatsapp privacy case and Aadhaar case which are currently being heard in the Supreme Court. The nine-judge bench has noted in its ruling, “Informational privacy is a facet of the right to privacy. The dangers to privacy in an age of information can originate not only from the state but from non-state actors as well.” This assumes significance as privacy activists in the country have been arguing how social media networks like Facebook, and companies like Google, Microsoft, can exercise a strong control over user data.

The court had reserved its verdict on August 2 after hearing marathon arguments for six days. The bench had expressed its concern over the risk of misuse a person faced with their personal information in the public domain, saying the protection of the concept of privacy in the all-pervading technological era was a ‘losing battle.’

Meanwhile, asserting that the Aadhaar, as conceived by the previous UPA government was perfectly compatible with the Right to Privacy, senior Congress leader and former Home Minister P Chidambaram said that the fault lay in this government's attempt to misuse it as a tool to curb the privacy of an individual. The former Union minister said, “The Aadhaar we conceived was perfectly compatible with the Right to Privacy. It was started with an objective to check leakages and duplication of subsidies meant to benefit people. It is the interpretation of this government of the Article 21 of the Constitution which is an invasion of the Right to Privacy. In fact, this government's approach to Aadhaar is in total contrast to the one taken by the UPA government. There is no fault in the Aadhaar concept. There is a fault in how this government plans to use or misuse Aadhaar as a tool.”

Welcoming the Supreme Court judgment, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said that the verdict was a blow on the unbridled encroachment and surveillance by the state and its agencies in the life of the common man. Gandhi said that the Congress, along with the other Opposition parties, had spoken out for the Right to Privacy and dignity for all Indians against the arrogant attempts of the present government to curtail them.

In what could be termed a U-turn, the government welcomed the Supreme Court decision but added that the right should be subject to reasonable restrictions, like every other right guaranteed in the Constitution. Brushing allegations leveled at the BJP-led government at the Centre by the Opposition, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the government has always acknowledged the need for privacy and hit back at the Congress saying, “What has been the record of the Congress in protecting individual liberties was seen during Emergency.” However, this marks a departure from the stance the government maintained throughout the hearing in the case. While arguing that some citizens cannot agitate against Aadhaar, saying it is a violation of their right to privacy, the government had earlier claimed that an elite few cannot claim that their bodily integrity would be violated by a scheme which serves to bring home basic human rights and social justice to millions of poor households across the country.

With inputs from UNI