In a society where personal choices mean little and members of a family live together in the same room, the concept of privacy has always been hard to comprehend. This is the reason people have often confused ‘privacy’ with luxuries and associated ‘security’ with the rich. There is also little understanding of what is personal and what is private. Privacy, as a fundamental right or not, has in fact always been at the crossroads of cultural practices and constitutional rights. Culturally, India has been a country where much of its knowledge has been transferred from one generation to another orally. In such a community, where everything is not documented on paper or in audio-visual formats, there is little meaning of “privacy”.
And so, the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court’s nine-judge bench on August 24, upholding the Right to Privacy as a Fundamental Right, must be viewed as a historic decision that will not only determine the fate of India’s digital data and footprints but the country’s social and cultural landscape as well.
Last month, a nine-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court ruled that the Right to Privacy is “intrinsic to life and liberty” and is inherently protected under the various fundamental freedoms enshrined under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The collective efforts of the civil society must be applauded for this historic judgment.
Earlier, during the proceedings, the government had made several attempts at defending its right to own and use, at its will, the public’s personal information. We saw this government not just dictating its decisions over citizens but also defending itself by accusing consumers of providing data to private companies like Facebook without a fight, ignoring completely the fact that consumer rights are different from citizen rights. It even went ahead to submit that only “wrong doers need privacy” and that the “poor don’t need privacy”, forcing the court to term this argument “unsustainable”.
The judgment will have a crucial bearing on the government’s Aadhaar scheme that collects personal details, biometrics to identify beneficiaries for accessing social benefits and government welfare scheme.
Yes, privacy has been upheld as a Fundamental Right. This is a victory we must celebrate. However, the judgment has also left open several questions that are yet to be answered. If privacy is a Fundamental Right, what does it mean for the LGBT community? What does it mean for the beef ban? Will it affect the Right to Information Act? Will the government still allow its citizens to question how their elected representatives are utilising public money for development? What will its effect be on Goods and Services Tax (GST)? What will be the fate of Aadhaar? Will people in rural India still need to provide an Aadhaar to receive their entitlements? What will happen to the biometric data of billions of Indians that has already been captured and linked to telecom, banking, and other services? Will the government have to seek permission from its citizens before using their personal data for any purpose? These and so many more questions are waiting to be answered even as we hail our Right to Privacy today.
You can read more about what DEF has to say about the Supreme Court judgment in ‘It’s Hard to Understand Privacy in India’ published (The Wire) and ‘Right to Privacy: What do the limitations mean and how will they impact you? (Business Standard). Watch DEF Founder-Director discuss Right to Privacy and Aadhaar in a conversation with Naz Foundation Founder & Executive Director Anjali Gopalan and Lawyer & Human Rights Activist Karuna Nundy on Al Jazeera.