Privacy under Indian laws
What is privacy?
- A legal definition of ‘privacy’ doesn’t exist. Some legal experts define it as a human right and international charters, like the Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, defend persons against “arbitrary interference” with one’s privacy.
- Privacy can mean a array of things: the right to be left alone, freedom to dissent or protection from state surveillance, etc.
- The Supreme Court’s landmark judgment explicitly declares this a guaranteed fundamental right.
- In July, the government had told the apex court that privacy is a fundamental right but it is “conditional”.
How is privacy protected in India?
- Courts in India have interpreted that the constitution guarantees a limited right to privacy primarily through Article 21, the right to life and liberty.
- Such court rulings protect citizens’ rights in a array of matters: from freedom of movement to interception of communication.
Why does it matter?
- The public debate about this arose after the government started collecting biometric data of citizens for Aadhaar.
- The government is pushing for Aadhaar, saying it is necessary to plug leakages in subsidy schemes and to ensure benefits reach the right people.
- But critics say the move violates privacy, is susceptible to data breaches and potentially helps government spy on people.
- Aadhaar has huge potential for profiling and surveillance, say critics. The government can potentially spy on you because every instance of using Aadhaar for authentication or for financial transactions leaves behind logs in the databases of Unique Identification Authority of India.
- The organization that oversees implementation of the identity card. Critics have warned that Aadhaar will grant the state an “electronic strap” on citizens and grant the government “sweeping power” to access citizens’ data.
Safety of Private Data
- Several lawsuits in past years have argued that the Aadhaar system breached the right to privacy, prompting the Supreme Court to constitute a bench in July to elucidate whether such a right existed in the Indian constitution.
- Cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s personal information was leakedby a government-sanctioned Aadhaar enrolment agency in Ranchi in May. Analysts say the government’s decision to hand over the Aadhaar enrolment procedure to private agencies for a license fee was wrong and the set-up to secure private details was weak and prone to data mining and hacking.
- Critics have raised concerns about possibility of breaches in a database that could eventually store enough information to create a inclusive profile of a person’s lifestyle, purchases, friends, financial habits, and more
- They have also objected to government policies that make the Aadhaar card obligatory to access welfare and social services schemes.
- The Supreme Court is currently hearing another case with privacy implications concerning the right of the popular messaging service WhatsApp, which has more than 160 million users in India to share information about them with Facebook.
♦ Pradeep Gautam