The Evolution of Privacy Rights in India: From Justice Puttaswamy to Data Privacy: (Part - 1)
This 2-part blog post explores the historical and legal progression of privacy rights in India, culminating in the landmark Puttaswamy verdict. This article underscores the growing significance of data privacy in the digital age, with implications for individuals, businesses, and international alignment, including India's forthcoming Personal Data Protection Bill.
RIGHT TO PRIVACY
Honourable Justice K S Puttaswamy (Retd.)
The concept of the "Right to privacy" is a fundamental human right that has evolved over time.
In India, this right found its landmark recognition in the historic verdict of Justice K. S. Puttaswamy & Anr. vs. Union Of India & Ors., a case that not only solidified the right to privacy but also laid the foundation for the "right to data privacy."
Origins of the Right to Privacy in India
1. Constitutional Roots: The right to privacy in India traces its origins to the Constitution. While not explicitly mentioned, it is considered an intrinsic part of the fundamental right to life and personal liberty under Article 21.
2. PUDR vs. Union of India: The 1977 case of People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) vs. Union of India marked a significant step in recognizing privacy as an essential component of personal liberty. The Supreme Court emphasized the need to safeguard individual privacy against unlawful intrusion by the state.
3. R. Rajagopal vs. State of Tamil Nadu: In the 1994 case of R. Rajagopal vs. State of Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court affirmed that the right to privacy is an integral part of the right to life and personal liberty. It acknowledged the right to protect one's private life from unwarranted publicity.
The Curious Case of Puttaswamy
In the year 2012 - In a legal battle that unfolded like an epic saga, a 91-year-old retired High Court Judge, Puttaswamy, stood resolute against the might of the Union of India. This monumental clash took before a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court, a battle sparked by conflicting decisions from other Supreme Court benches.
At the heart of this judicial showdown was the government's Aadhaar scheme, a biometrics-based identity card that sought to become mandatory for accessing essential government services and benefits. It was a challenge that shook the very foundations of privacy rights, and it played out before a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court.
As the courtroom drama unfolded, a critical question loomed large: Did the Indian Constitution extend its protective embrace to the right to privacy? The Attorney General, a formidable defender of the Union of India, infamously contended that the Right to Privacy found nowhere within the Indian Constitution.
In this high-stakes legal duel, the Honourable Justice K S Puttaswamy became the symbol of an individual's unwavering commitment to preserving the sanctity of privacy against the backdrop of governmental intrusion. The outcome of this legal showdown would echo through the annals of Indian jurisprudence, forever altering the landscape of privacy rights in the digital age.
... And the Verdict is
In 2017, the Supreme Court of India delivered a historic judgment in the case of Justice K. S. Puttaswamy & Anr. vs. Union Of India & Ors. This verdict redefined the contours of the right to privacy in India:
1. Fundamental Right: The court unequivocally declared that the right to privacy is a fundamental right, intrinsic to Article 21 of the Constitution. This recognition placed privacy on par with other fundamental rights.
2. Balancing Test: The judgment articulated a "balancing test" to determine the validity of state interference with an individual's privacy. It emphasized that any intrusion must be justified by a legitimate state interest and meet the tests of necessity and proportionality.
3. Data Privacy: While not explicitly mentioned, the Puttaswamy verdict laid the groundwork for the "right to data privacy." It acknowledged the importance of personal data protection as an essential aspect of individual privacy.
The Right to Data Privacy
The "right to data privacy" gained prominence in India following the Puttaswamy judgment:
1. Aadhaar Verdict: In 2018, the Supreme Court delivered another significant verdict related to data privacy in the Aadhaar case. It upheld the constitutional validity of Aadhaar while emphasizing the need for stringent data protection measures.
2. Personal Data Protection Bill: India is currently in the process of enacting the Personal Data Protection Bill, which aims to regulate the processing of personal data and establish individuals' rights over their data.
Significance and Future Implications
The recognition of the right to data privacy is of immense significance in the digital age:
1. Individual Empowerment: It empowers individuals to have control over their personal information and ensures that it is used responsibly.
2. Business and Innovation: It fosters trust in the digital ecosystem, benefiting businesses and promoting innovation.
3. International Alignment: India's recognition of data privacy aligns with global standards and enhances cross-border data flow.
The journey from recognizing the right to privacy as a fundamental right to acknowledging the emerging "right to data privacy" has been transformative. The Puttaswamy verdict laid the foundation for safeguarding individual privacy in the digital era, and the continued evolution of data protection laws in India reflects the commitment to upholding this fundamental right.
In the PART - 2, of this series, we will explore the "Digital Personal Data Protection Act of 2023" and examine if it is indeed in line with the spirit of the supreme court's judgement with respect to the Right to Privacy of individuals in India.