Supreme Court Judgement on Right to Privacy

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The nine-judge Bench Supreme Court judgement has pronounced in the “Privacy Case” by upholding the Right to Privacy as one protected by Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

Article 21 says, “no person shall be deprived of his Right to Life and Liberty without procedure established by law”.

Nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court delivered its verdict in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy vs Union of India, unanimously affirming that the right to privacy is a fundamental right under the Indian Constitution.

Delivering the unanimous verdict of the nine-judge bench, Chief Justice J.S. Khehar said: “Privacy is intrinsic to the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution and an inherent part of fundamental freedom under part III of the Constitution.”

With this ruling, the right to privacy will now find place under part III of the Constitution along with other fundamental rights.

While the fate of Aadhaar—to be heard as a separate case by a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court—is undecided, the privacy judgement provides room for its accommodation.

Main Highlights of the Judgment:

1. Life and personal liberty are inalienable rights. These are rights which are inseparable from a dignified human existence. The dignity of the individual, equality between human beings and the quest for liberty are the foundational pillars of the Indian Constitution;

2. Judicial recognition of the existence of a constitutional right of privacy is not an exercise in the nature of amending the Constitution nor is the Court embarking on a constitutional function of that nature which is entrusted to Parliament;

3. Privacy includes at its core the preservation of personal intimacies, the sanctity of family life, marriage, procreation, the home and sexual orientation. Privacy also connotes a right to be left alone.

4. Personal choices governing a way of life are intrinsic to privacy.

5. Privacy is not lost or surrendered merely because the individual is in a public place. Privacy attaches to the person since it is an essential facet of the dignity of the human being.

6. Technological change has given rise to concerns which were not present seven decades ago and the rapid growth of technology may render obsolescent many notions of the present. Hence the interpretation of the Constitution must be resilient and flexible to allow future generations to adapt its content bearing in mind its basic or essential features.

7. Like other rights which form part of the fundamental freedoms protected by Part III, including the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21, privacy is not an absolute right. A law which encroaches upon privacy will have to withstand the touchstone of permissible restrictions on fundamental rights.

8. Privacy has both positive and negative content. The negative content restrains the state from committing an intrusion upon the life and personal liberty of a citizen. Its positive content imposes an obligation on the state to take all necessary measures to protect the privacy of the individual.

9. The right of privacy is a fundamental right. It is a right which protects the inner sphere of the individual from interference from both State, and non-State actors and allows the individuals to make autonomous life choices.

10. The privacy of the home must protect the family, marriage, procreation and sexual orientation which are all important aspects of dignity.

11. In a country like ours which prides itself on its diversity, privacy is one of the most important rights to be protected both against State and non-State actors and be recognized as a fundamental right.

12. Right of privacy cannot be denied, even if there is a miniscule fraction of the population which is affected. The majoritarian concept does not apply to Constitutional rights…

13. Let the right of privacy, an inherent right, be unequivocally a fundamental right embedded in part-III of the Constitution of India, but subject to the restrictions specified, relatable to that part. This is the call of today. The old order changeth yielding place to new.

Other Important Facts:

The court in its verdict also overruled earlier judgements of M.P Sharma vs Satish Chandra (1954) and Kharak Singh vs State of Uttar Pradesh (1962) that had held privacy to not be a fundamental right.

The right to privacy is now applicable against the state as well as against the private companies who possess large amounts of user data without consent or nominal consent of users.

The Supreme Court order is based on an array of petitions that have challenged the mandatory use of Aadhaar cards which assign a unique 12-digit ID to every citizen. The Aadhaar database links iris scans and fingerprints to more than a billion people.

All fundamental rights come with reasonable restrictions. Whether Aadhaar can be seen as a reasonable restriction has yet to be decided.

There are fears the Aadhar data could be misused by a government that argues Indians have no right to privacy.

Privacy has been recognised as a common law right in India, but not as the fundamental right. The difference between the common law right and fundamental right is that the former could be enforced by filing a civil law suit and if it is the latter, the court could enforce it like any other writ.

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