Do Indians have a fundamental right to privacy?
The debate was snow-balling in the corridors of power and justice in the last few months. The right to privacy question was referred to a nine- judge Bench of Supreme Court after a clutch of petitions challenging the Aadhaar Act came up in the highest judiciary of the nation.
In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court today ( 24 August 2017) proclaimed that “privacy is a constitutional right.” Nine judges were unanimous in their finding, though they cited different reasons for their conclusion. The verdict on the right to privacy today is a major setback for the government, which had argued that the constitution does not guarantee individual privacy as an inalienable fundamental right. The judges concluded today- “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”.
Salient Features Of The ‘Right To Privacy’ Verdict
The right to privacy “is protected as an intrinsic part of Article 21 that protects life and liberty,” the Supreme
Court ruled. However the government insisted it had not lost its case. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad
claimed that judges have agreed that “privacy as a fundamental right is subject to reasonable restrictions.”
Today’s verdict comprised of six different judgments, though they all concurred on privacy as an intrinsic right.
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.
It’s interesting to note that Today’s verdic t does not comment on whether the government’s demand for Aadhaar to be linked to all financial transactions amounts to an infringement of privacy. The opposition led by the Congress said that the government’s intent of “suppression through surveillance” has been defeated by the Supreme Court.
Whether Aadhaar can be made mandatory as the government insists for all financial transactions and for benefits of welfare schemes will be decided by a separate and smaller bench of the Supreme Court. But experts said that today’s ruling could prompt the government to tweak its arguments in that case. The Supreme Court dismantled key claims made by the government, stating, “The refrain that the poor need no civil and political rights and are concerned only with economic well-being has been utilised through history to wreak the most egregious violations of human rights”. It added, “The poor (as portrayed by the Attorney General) talks about today have cell phones, and would come forward to press the fundamental right of privacy.”
All fundamental rights come with reasonable restrictions, said noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan. Whether
Aadhaar can be seen as a reasonable restriction has yet to be decided, he cautioned.
In May, then Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi rejected suggestions that Indians c ould refuse to provide their
iris scans or fingerprints to the government, telling a court “the concept of absolute right over one’s body was a myth”.
The petitioners in today’s case had stressed that the Aadhaar database was originally presented as a purely voluntary programme that offered to provide every Indian with an identity card.
The government says Aadhaar is essential for all services including tax returns, opening bank accounts and securing loans, pensions and cash transfers for those entitled to welfare schemes. It has rejected suggestions that the Aadhaar programme, set up in 2009 by the previous Congress-led government, poses a threat to civil liberties.
Critics say the Aadhaar identity card links enough data to allow profiling because it creates a comprehensive profile of a person’s spending habits, their friends and acquaintances, the property they own, and a trove of other information.
There are fears th e data could be misused by a government that argues Indians have no right to privacy. There have been recurring reports of Aadhaar details being accidentally released, including on government websites. UIDAI, the agency that governs Aadhaar, has repeatedly said that its data is secure. The verdict
today has asked the government to ensure a “robust regime for data protection” that would deliver “a careful and sensitive balance between individual interests and legitimate concerns of the state.”
In a press conference later, Law Minister emphasised that the Government was committed to adhere with all the points enshrined in its verdict. He reiterates that the Aadhaar card is not actually encroaching into the privacy of an individual since it contains only the name, gender ,address and biometric identity of the holder.
He further reminded that the poor people are fully benefited by the Aadhaar card, enabling the government to remit their grants directly to their bank accounts thereby eliminating corruption and exploitation by the system.
As per the Law Minister, an expert committee nominated by the government will plug all loopholes in the implementation of all rules as per the Aadhar Act.
I believe, the SC ruling can be termed as a cornerstone judgment which will regulate and protect the privacy of the common man in India.

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