A STUDY ON ISSUES RELATED TO THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY

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WHAT IS THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY?

The term privacy is very subjective and depends upon our perception of viewing it. It is nowhere explicitly mentioned in our constitution. But before going into the intricacies of this term and seeing its importance and significance, we should first know the exact meaning and ambit of this concept. The Black’s Law Dictionary defines the Right to Privacy as “right to be let alone; the right of a person to be free from any unwarranted publicity; the right to live without any unwarranted interference by the public in matters with which the public is not necessarily concerned.”[1]

Today the concept of privacy is no more underrated, we consider it of utmost importance in every field, from buying mobile phones to opening account in banks, privacy is taken into account everywhere. We are very cautious of the information we share with any company, organization, and even government for that matter of fact. Privacy rights limit government surveillance into our lives.

In India, Right to Privacy is envisaged under Art. 21 of our Indian Constitution which says “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” [2] Life here is inclusive of all such factors that are necessary for a meaningful and complete life. It is also a part of the popular “Golden Triangle” which includes Art. 14, Art. 19 and Art. 21.

CASES THAT LEAD TO THE EVOLUTION OF THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY

The right to privacy can be considered as a blend of constitutional and common laws. During the early years of independence, judges did not read between lines for interpretation of the Constitution or any other statute. They read it as it is, corresponding to which they did not consider the right to privacy as a fundamental right.

In the case of Kharak Singh v/s State of U.P and others[3], the petitioner was challenged of dacoity but was released due to lack of evidence. Surveillance was carried out under “Regulation 236 of the U.P. Police Regulations.” To this, the petitioner challenged the validity of this law. In this case, Justice K. Subba Rao remarked that the Right to Privacy must be included in Art. 21 as an essential part and any such surveillance must be considered as an infringement of the personal liberty of the citizens.

The major boost in this matter came after the Retired Justice of Karnataka High Court KS Puttaswamy went to Supreme Court challenging the Aadhaar Scheme which was made compulsory for anyone who wants to avail any public service. It was in this case on 24th August 2017 when a nine-judge constitutional bench in Supreme Court held that “Right to Privacy” is an indispensable part of Art. 21 of our Constitution.

DIFFERENT ASPECTS OF THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY

 Tapping Phones

Conversations on phones by no doubt are an integral part of our privacy. This subject was dealt by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the matter of “People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India”[4]. It was a PIL, protesting the frequent phone tapping of various politicians by CBI. The Supreme Court held that “telephone conversation is an important facet of a man’s private life” and tapping it would amount to an infraction of Right to Privacy under Art. 21, unless it is done by a procedure established by law for which it laid certain exhaustive guidelines to regulate the powers of the government as given under Section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act.

Privacy on sexual orientation

It is held that every citizen of India is free to choose their sexual orientation and keep it private. It is not at all necessary to disclose one’s identity with regard to their sex. Each and every couple have the right to keep their sexual relationship private.

Privacy with regard to health issues

Health is a highly concerned matter for most individuals and also it is highly sensitive. It not only includes any disability or health problems but also the health services that are taken by a particular person. Doctor and patient have a fiduciary relationship, and therefore doctors are morally and ethically bound not to disclose any of the information of his patient to anyone else. Thus, the health sector is covered under the ambit of Art. 21.

Privacy from the State

The Apex Court held that any legislation interfering with our personal liberty needs to go through triple tests as laid down in the case of “Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India”[5] which generally talks about the procedure to do so and should not be violating Art. 14 and Art. 19 of our Constitution. The case of Kharak Singh also dealt with the state’s intrusion in his right to privacy which has been discussed earlier.

Privacy Rights of Prisoners

It is held by the Supreme Court that mere conviction of any person does not snatch his rights. This right includes the right to be left alone which was guaranteed by the Supreme Court in the case of “R. Rajagopal v. the State of T.N.”[6]which is popularly known as the “Auto Shankar Case”. The petitioner (the prisoner) in this case wrote an autobiography while he was in jail and gave it to his wife for publication in a certain magazine but he was restrained from doing so on the grounds that does anyone in jail has the right to be left alone, to which the court held Art. 21 includes the right to be left alone.

THE PERSONAL DATA PROTECTION BILL, 2019

This bill was introduced by the Information Technology Ministry in the parliament. Data is basically divided into two types- personal and non-personal, where personal data consists of information that is helpful for identifying a particular person whereas individuals cannot be identified using non-personal data. The bill is brought in reference to the judgment of the Supreme Court in the KS Puttaswamy case, which declared privacy as a fundamental right. The new bill governs the data from private as well as public enterprises. It also regulates the storage and processing of this data.

Individuals have the right to seek confirmation about their personal data being processed, any kind of correction or completion, transfer of data to other fiduciaries, and deletion of data. The bill also obliges the data fiduciaries who are processing personal data, they should take every such measure that ensures accountability and transparency in the mechanism. This bill is quite different from the draft given by the expert committee and has certain beneficiary additions such as data fiduciary and intermediaries, and also it has expanded the scope of exemptions from the government. It was tabled in Lok Sabha on 11th December 2019.       

CONCLUSION

It is now well established that every citizen in India has the Right to Privacy guaranteed under Art. 21 of the Constitution. It basically gives the leverage to citizens to choose what part of their life is to be shared with the public. In most countries, this right has not been given explicitly but is a product of judicial interpretations which set up as precedents. Though the right has been given to us but with the advancing world, several modifications have to be made in certain laws so that it is rightly protected.


[1] Hinailiyas, Right to privacy under Article 21 and the Related Conflicts, LEGAL SERVICES INDIA.com, (Jan. 10, 2021, 12:58 p.m.), http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/1630/Right-To-Privacy-Under-Article-21-and-the-Related-Conflicts.html.

[2] INDIA CONST. art. 21.

[3] Kharak Singh v. State of U.P. and others, (1964) 1 SCR 332.

[4] People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India, AIR 1997 SC 568.

[5] Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 1978 SCR (2) 621.

[6] R. Rajagopal v. The State of T.N., 1995 AIR 264.

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