Privacy a fundamental right or not, SC reserves verdict

RSTV Bureau

The nine-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court reserved its judgement over the issue of whether right to privacy is fundamental right or not.

The Court on Tuesday said that there has to be “overarching” guidelines to protect an individual’s private information in public domain to ensure that it was used only for an intended purpose.

AADHAARThe bench rejected the plea of a Gujarat government lawyer that misuse of personal information could be dealt with on a “case-to-case basis” and said an all-embracing guideline was needed keeping in mind the size of the population.

The bench, headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar, also referred to the fact that India was a signatory of a 1948 international convention which recognized privacy as a human right.

Referring to arguments put forward by the Maharashtra government on the issue, the court said, “Even if we accept it that the Constituent Assembly dealt with it (privacy issue) and decided against including it as a fundamental right, then how you will deal with the fact that India is a signatory to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights which recognises it.”

File Photo of Supreme Court of India building in New Delhi.

File Photo of Supreme Court of India building in New Delhi.

The bench, which also comprised justices J Chelameswar, S A Bobde, R K Agrawal, R F Nariman, A M Sapre, D Y Chandrachud, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and S Abdul Nazeer, said that there has to be an “overarching” or all-embracing guideline to ensure that the private information of individuals, put in public domain, was used only for an intended purpose.

“If I give personal information like names, parents’ name and telephone numbers for a particular purpose, then a reasonable expectation will be that it is used only for that particular purpose… (Otherwise) how we will deal with the violations?” it asked.

On July 26, the Centre told the apex court that there is a fundamental right to privacy, but is a ‘wholly qualified right’.

The Centre made this submission before the nine-judge Constitution bench that is hearing the Aadhaar Card privacy matter.

Attorney General, KK Venugopal told the apex court that “privacy, as a fundamental right, could have been mentioned in Article 21, but has been omitted. Right to life transcends right to privacy”.

In special circumstances, government can interfere in a matter that comes under a wholly qualified right. An absolute right cannot be reduced or amended.

Earlier on July 20, all the petitioners had completed their argument in the apex court. The petitioners contested that the twelve-digit biometric unique identification card raises privacy threat.

On June 10, the top court had ruled that from July 1 onward, every person eligible to obtain Aadhar card must quote their Aadhaar number or their Aadhaar Enrolment ID number for filing of Income Tax Returns as well as for applications for Permanent Account Number (PAN).

The Income Tax Department has stepped up its efforts to encourage people to link their PAN with Aadhar.