Privacy- A Fundamental Right

Supreme Court has finally decided that right to privacy is fundamental right and is guaranteed under Article 21 of Indian Constitution, which guarantees Right of Life. The issue had come before Supreme Court, when it was hearing cases pertaining to Aadhar. Indian government has been making Aadhar mandatory in many cases. There are at least 20 cases filed against Aadhar and Supreme Court had clubbed all of them.

When a 5- Judge Bench was hearing the cases of Aadhar, the issue of privacy came to the fore. Those challenging Aadhar argued that the government is violating the fundamental right of citizens by violating their privacy with the help of Aadhar. The government contested the view that privacy is a fundamental right, though it promised that privacy of citizens will be respected by making use of Aadhar by government agencies.

5- Judge bench of the Supreme Court found it prudent to first examine, whether privacy was a fundamental right or not. This issue was considered of paramount importance before taking up the issue of linking Aadhar with many government agencies and banks. In 1950 and 1960 this issue of privacy had been decided by 6- Judge and 8 Judge Benches and both of them had declared that privacy was not a fundamental right. To review that judgment Supreme Court decided to constitute a 9- Judge bench to delve on the issue afresh.

Now, the bench has given a unanimous decision that privacy is fundamental right and the old judgments have become null and void. This is perhaps the unique case, where Supreme Court has undone its 50 years old decision. Judge Bench of Supreme Court hearing the main petition on Aadhar was not competent to ignore the decision of 8- Judge Bench, that is why; need was felt to refer the matter of privacy to a bigger Bench.

This decision is a big jolt to the Government of India, which had argued that privacy of a citizen could not be accepted as a fundamental right. Had the view of the government been accepted by the Court, it would have been its victory of main petition challenging Aadhaar. Then there would have been no need of further hearing on those petitions, which were filed on the presumption that making Aadhar mandatory and forcing citizens to deposit their biometrics sample with government agencies. There are people in our countries, which have not enrolled themselves in Aadhar centre and had no Aadhar number. But by linking many services with Aadhar, the government is almost making it compulsory to live in the country. If you have no Aadhar, you will not have Bank Account and in future you may not book a ticket for flight or train in India, if government decides so.

People opposing making Aadhar mandatory have won the battle, but they have not won the war. The government has claimed in the Court that it respected the privacy of the citizens and Law has been made to protect it. It hopes that it can still win the Aadhar case by convincing the Court that biometric data collected by the government from Indian citizens are safe and secure and the fear of violation of privacy because of Aadhar is unfounded.

Supreme Court, while accepting privacy as fundamental right has accepted that reasonable restrictions can be imposed on this right, too. In fact citizens have no unbridled fundamental rights. They can be infringed upon in the interest of security and safety for the country and also for maintaining law and order. We know, convicted people are jailed by the Court and hence there right of liberty is restricted. Court even orders the execution of dreaded criminal and his right to life is negated.

We know that right to assemble, protest and demonstrate is fundamental right, but to maintain law and order curfew is imposed and people are not even allowed to move outside the road, leave alone the right to assemble, protest and agitate.

Similarly even the right to privacy is subject to some exceptions; hence the government is sure that the petition against compulsory Aadhar will not get the nod of Supreme Court. After losing the battle, it may yet hope to win the war.

– Contributed by Kriti

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