The Aadhaar scheme by the Union Government has been the point of friction for quite a few days. It had been under the lens of allegations like breaching individual’s privacy as it involved the collection of biometric data. With the 12-digit Aadhaar becoming the basis of obtaining the benefits of Government programmes, subsidies, tax administration, and online financial transactions, right to privacy comes under threat.
Privacy has been defined as “a state in which one is not observed or disturbed by other people” or “the state of being free from public attention” by the Oxford dictionary. Privacy can also be defined in the realms of body and mind. The three aspects of privacy include bodily integrity, dissemination of personal information, and right to make own choices.
The debate over privacy has come to light after two cases: the first being the Satish Chandra versus M.P. Sharma case whose documents were searched and seized when a First Information Report was lodged against him, and the second being Kharak Singh versus the State of Uttar Pradesh in which the petitioner was subjected to constant surveillance by police authorities which led to infringement of his constitutionally guaranteed rights.
The Government had reverberatingly stated that “privacy” was never a fundamental right. The government said that “privacy is an elitist concept” and has no benefit for the common masses. It also asserted that privacy is not explicitly mentioned as a right in the Indian Constitution. The increasing number of petitions coerced the Supreme Court to decide on this highly contested issue. Hence a separate nine-judge constitutional bench was formed. This constitutional bench on 24th August overturned the previous decisions of the 1950s and 1960s which held that “Right to Privacy” is not a fundamental right.
Although it was clear that “Right to Privacy” was not absolute in all aspects, the court needs to establish a balance between the rights of the state and citizens on one side and rights of citizens and non-state actors on other.
Four states, West Bengal, Karnataka, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and one Union Territory, Puducherry, have argued in the SC that they support a constitutional right to privacy.
The apex court said that although Right to privacy is not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution but can be easily interpreted if we look through Article 21 and thus forms an integral part of this fundamental right. Privacy forms the heart and soul of Constitution as it embedded in both dignity and liberty which is Article 21. It was a historical unanimous decision though there were six judgements given.
There were 5 different judgements of 5 judges while a common judgement of four judges, including Chief Justice J S Khehar. The common verdict in the words of the court is “the right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution.”
“Right to Privacy” is not absolute in the sense that it has to withstand the threshold of restrictions imposed on other fundamental rights. These aberrations must be a fair, just, and reasonable in the context of Article 21.
The ambit and the contentious areas of the right to privacy will soon be defined with the course of time. Other highly disputed areas include the various social networking sites and applications like the Facebook, WhatsApp, and other messaging services which breach Privacy by selling personal information to private companies.
The bench concluded that “Privacy” is the core of human dignity. This judgment has also wobbled the fate of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and the recent beef ban by the Maharashtra Government. Privacy also covers the aspect of personal intimacies, sexual orientation, marriage and food.
This mammoth decision has a galore of impacts and consequences. Now, Aadhaar enrollment would be voluntary and not mandatory, thus not depriving anyone of the welfare benefits if one opts not to enrol. The government is entrusted to advertise that Aadhaar is a voluntary scheme.
This verdict will have an impact on the collection of data by the government and even private companies. This could also lead to the formulation of a legal framework to safeguard individual data as well.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ASHISH KUMAR YADAV
Ashish is an undergraduate student at Cluster Innovation Centre, University of Delhi. The institution has a Meta College concept and focuses on an interdisciplinary approach. He is the co-founder of two non-profit ventures, one of which deals with education and the other in enhancing scientific communication among the masses. He has done three research projects at Cluster Innovation Centre the first aimed to create a prototype of full- fledged Hindi dictionary and another on the Study of a community’s cultural tradition (Banjara community). The third project was Hafta bazaar aimed to digitalize and study the various weekly markets in Delhi. He is quite ardent in the field of economics and journalism and is intrigued by topics from digital marketing to management, which are reflected in his undergraduate studies. He was also a part of a report published on education.