Is privacy a fundamental right? Supreme Court verdict today: All you need to know about the case

Editor's note: The Supreme Court will pronounce its judgment on whether an individual's Right to Privacy can be elevated to the status of a Fundamental Right under the Constitution, Bar and Bench reported. The judgment will have a bearing upon at least 24 other crucial cases, challenging the validity of Aadhaar and the constitutionality of making it compulsory for all citizens, amid other aspects.

The matter was heard by a nine-judge Supreme Court Bench, including Chief Justice of India JS Khehar, Justices Jasti Chelameswar, SA Bobde, JRK Agarwal, Rohinton Nariman, AM Sapre, DY Chandrachud, SK Kaul and S Abdul Nazeer. The court had reserved its judgement on 2 August after hearing the matter for six days.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Contrasting views have emerged, even from within the judiciary, as the Supreme Court heard the contentious matter.

While critics have said that the 12-digit biometric unique identity number Aadhaar violates privacy and helps the government spy on people, the government has said citizens have a right to privacy but it is not an absolute right.

Judges have differed with the government, saying, “Textually it is correct today that there is no right to privacy in the Constitution. But even freedom of press is not expressly stated." On the other hand, the judiciary also conceded that privacy is an "amorphous term" which is not absolute and cannot prevent the State from making laws imposing reasonable restrictions on citizens.

The court said that in order to recognise privacy as a right, it would first have to define it. But this would be a near impossible task as an element of privacy pervaded all Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Constitution.

The concept of privacy

As the Supreme Court rightly pointed, a definitive definition 'Right to Privacy' remains elusive as privacy is quite an "amorphous term." While some legal experts argue that it is indeed a Fundamental Right but the virtue of every human beings' existence. There are others who extend it to other concepts like a citizen's right to autonomy in sharing his or her personal information with anyone, protection from State surveillance, and freedom reserve the right to refuse to share personal information.

However, in the digital era, every individual's footprint (at least up to some degree) is out there in the public domain, which has created a tricky situation in defining the extent to which pervasion of one's privacy by the State is not a violation of one's basic rights. It is this ambiguity that the Supreme Court judgement seeks to sort and define a relationship between citizens and the State, hopefully striking a balance between surveillance and data collection and a citizen's right to privacy.

However, apart from all the ambiguity in drawing the line on privacy, there are certain aspects to it that are non-negotiable and crystal clear. For one, the State is duty bound, at all times, to guard citizens’ private information from leakage. Indian citizen's right to be protected against frauds and abuse, basis the information imparted to State, also stands clearly outside the grey area of any debate on the constitutionality of privacy.

What will the Supreme Court decide on?

The nine-judge bench is not going to give a binary ruling on the fate of Aadhaar and its validity. It will only define the nature and extent of the Right to Privacy an individual enjoys and whether it is a Fundamental Right protected under the Constitution. The ruling will, however, have a far-reaching impact on the function and currency of the Aadhaar card.

Updated Date: Aug 24, 2017 07:24 AM

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