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Decoding Right to Privacy Judgment
kartik mago 28 Feb 2019

Decoding Right to Privacy Judgment

Case Summary and Outcome

A bench of 9 judges of the Supreme Court of India held with majority ratio of 6:1 that the right to privacy was a constitutionally protected right in India, as well as somewhat similar to other freedoms guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. Retired High Court Judge Puttaswamy brought this case to the Supreme Court and challenged the Government’s proposal for a uniform biometrics-based identity card which would be compulsory for access to government services and benefits. The Government argued that the Constitution of India did not provide precise protection for the right to privacy. The Court presented their case relying on the argument that that privacy is an incident of fundamental freedom or liberty which is provided to every Indian under Article 21 which says that: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law” Justice.  K.S.Puttaswamy (Retd) vs Union Of India is a landmark case which will challenge some constitutional provisions to a wide range of Indian legislation. Observers are also expecting from Indian Government to establish a data protection regime to protect the privacy of the individual. This case has a very wider significance as it is used by privacy campaigners as a tool to pursue the constitutional debate over privacy in other countries.


Facts of the case

This case was brought before the Supreme Court of India by a 91-year old retired High Court Judge Puttaswamy against the Union of India (the Government of India) before a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court and this bench had been set up on reference from the Constitution Bench to find out whether the right to privacy was guaranteed as an independent fundamental right following many conflicting judgements from other Supreme Court benches.

In this case government’s Aadhaar scheme (a form of uniform biometrics-based identity card) was challenged, and government made this proposal for making it compulsory for access to government services and benefits. The challenge was brought before a bench of three judges of the Supreme Court by relying their argument on the point that this scheme violated the right to privacy. However, the Attorney General of India stated on behalf of the Union of India that Constitution of India does not provide specific protection for the right to privacy. He based this on observations made in the case of M.P. Sharma v. Satish Chandra (an eight-judge bench) and Kharak Singh v. Uttar Pradesh (a five-judge bench). However following this hearing an eleven-judge bench found that fundamental rights were not to be considered as different, unrelated rights, thereby upholding the dissenting view in Kharak Singh. This also made the base of later decisions by smaller benches of the Supreme Court which expressly recognized the right to privacy.

Due to these cases a Constitution Bench was again construed and held that a bench of 9 judges are required to determine whether there was a fundamental right to privacy within the Constitution.

It was argued by Judge Puttaswamy before the bench of 9 judgesthat this right was an independent right, guaranteed by the right to life with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution. The Respondent submitted that the Constitution only recognized personal liberties which may incorporate the right to privacy to a limited extent. The Court considered detailed arguments on the nature of fundamental rights, constitutional interpretation and the theoretical and philosophical bases for the right to privacy as well as the nature of this right.


Ratio of the Case

 The Puttaswamy judgment is a landmark judgment. The main holding of the case is that right to privacy is being protected under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India.

The judgment contains 6 concurring opinions which affirm to the right top privacy. The previous judgments in Kharak Singh vs. State of UP and M.P Sharma v Union of India have been overruled by the constitution bench of Supreme Court.

The decision of the Supreme Court bench was unanimous in guaranteeing right to privacy as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21.

It was a 9 Judge bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court which recognized such right to privacy.

The bench reinforced the right to privacy. The bench held that right to privacy includes

1.      Autonomy over personal decisions.

2.      Bodily integrity

3.      The protection of personal information

The examples given by the bench were consumption of beef, reproductive rights and privacy of health records.

 The implications of the much discussed right were also discussed as below:

 

Justic Chandrachud:

In his opinion, privacy is not surrendered fully when an individual is at public places. Moreover, right to privacy is dual faced. It is a negative one because such right is against the State. The positivity of such right is that State protects some instances like homosexuality. Thus, there is a dire need for introduction of a regime which would protect data.

Justice Chelameswar:

Right to privacy implies right of refusing medical treatment, against forced feeding, of consuming beef and to display symbols of religion in one’s personal appearance etc.

Justice Bobde:

In his opinion, it is of utmost importance to obtain consent for the purposes of distributing personal data, especially which is inherent in nature. For example, health records of an individual are completely directional as to whether he/she wants his/her medical history or disease be made known to the public or not.

Justice Nariman:

Justice concurred the opinion and he clarified that the facets of privacy into non-interference with the individual body, protection of personal information and autonomy over personal choices.

Justice Sapre:

In his view, right to privacy also includes an individual person’s right to freedom of expression and movement. Such right is essential as they ensured dignity of a person by satisfying the constitutional aims of liberty and fraternity.

Justice Kaul:

 Justice related right to privacy with the need for protection of informational privacy and the right to preserve personal reputation. He opined that there has to be some law which would provide for data protection and regulation of national security exceptions that allow for interception of data by the State.

Apart from the above specific opinions, the Court also gave recognition to the fact that right to privacy along with being absolute, also allowed for restrictions legally imposed. This adheres to the aim of the State.

 

Implications of the Case

The implication of the Puttaswamy case is that ‘freedom of expression’ is expanded. Privacy is now recognized as a right which is independently enforceable by the Courts of Law.

Certain rights now protected by the Indian law, such as

1.      right against arbitrary, unregulated State surveillance;

2.      the right to express one’s sexual orientation, religious expression and data protection.

 

Conclusion

The historic 9 Judge Bench has given the judgment in the present case. Therefore, the judgment becomes a binding one on all the Courts of law. The judgment can be overruled only by a judgment which is given by a bench larger than 9 Judges.

Another point to be noted is that the scope of right to privacy has been widened by the Bench. This would definitely provide assistance to the people who come up and speak on privacy.

The overall holding of the judgment is that right to privacy emerges from Article 21. It should meet the threefold requirement

1.      Legality;

2.      Need for a legitimate aim;

3.      Proportionality

Informational privacy is a part of right to privacy. The Government will have to act upon a regime for data protection.

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