Right to Privacy Judgment: The Long and Short of It in 21 Points

Many have the misconception that the present judgment means that they have been granted an absolute right to privacy.
Many have the misconception that the present judgment means that they have been granted an absolute right to privacy.(Photo: The Quint)

Right to Privacy Judgment: The Long and Short of It in 21 Points

(On 24 August 2017, a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed that privacy is a fundamental right under the Constitution of India. One year on, The Quint looks back at what the judges said, and why the historic judgment is so important for all of us.)

On 24 August 2017, the Supreme Court of India passed a landmark, progressive judgment with significant consequences.

A nine-judge bench categorically held that the right to privacy is a fundamental right enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. It will be accorded the same protection as other fundamental rights under Chapter III of the Constitution.

These bunch of judgments run into 547 pages and have a lot of legalese, which often is not well understood by common people. There are a lot of lessons which this phenomenal judgment brings on the table.

Too caught up to read the whole story? Listen to it instead:

Also Read: Too Lazy to Read Right to Privacy Ruling? Here’s the TL;DR Version

I have tried to identify the following key lessons from the said judgment from the perspective of the common man of India:

1. Earlier, the right to privacy was invariably considered a legal right.

2. Various judgments of the Supreme Court had recognised privacy as part of fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, but there were some other judgments wherein it was stated that privacy is not a fundamental right. This led to massive confusion.

3. So when the Aadhaar case was being argued, this issue came up for consideration which was referred to a nine judge Constitutional Bench.

Also Read: SC’s Order on Right to Privacy is a Slam Dunk on Sec 377

4. All doubts have now been clarified once and for all, with regard to the concept of the right to privacy.

5. The effect of the judgment is that right to privacy has been accorded special protection as a fundamental right and has been put on a superior pedestal.

6. Since right to privacy has been read as an integral part of the fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, any person can be deprived from the enjoyment of the same only according to procedure established by law.

7. The recognition of privacy as a fundamental right only shows that the enjoyment of right to privacy can still be curtailed by procedure established by law or by legislation.

8. The fundamental right to privacy is not equivalent to an absolute right to privacy.

9. A lot of people have the misconception that by means of the present judgment, they have been granted an absolute right to privacy.

10. The absolute right to privacy is non-existent in today’s modern world.

11. In fact, going a bit further given the digital ecosystem, a lot of people are arguing that privacy is itself an evaporating concept.

12. In this context, the laying down of the law that the right to privacy is a fundamental right and the same is guaranteed against state action by the Constitution of India, comes in as a breath of fresh air.

Also Read: How We Got Here: SC Declares Right to Privacy a Fundamental Right

13. This judgment is of monumental significance and will impact not just every person living in India, but also every sector of human activity and endeavour in the country.

14. The Court has not only emphasised the need to protect personal privacy, but also informational privacy as also privacy in the electronic and digital ecosystem.

15. The judgment is extremely progressive and futuristic looking as the judgment recognises the transient role of technology and that technology could potentially change tomorrow and that even in the changed circumstances, there would be a need for revisiting and revising the concept of privacy. However, this judgment represents an irreversible turning point in the judicial history of India regarding clarifying the constitutional status of the right to privacy.

Also Read: India’s Justice League: Young Guns Behind The Right to Privacy Win

16. This judgment is likely to have an immense impact upon a variety of pending matters including the Aadhaar matter.

17. By delivering the judgment, the Supreme Court has sent a strong message to the entire global community who is keenly looking at the developments in Indian legal landscape. By declaring the right to privacy as a fundamental Right, the Supreme Court has upheld hopes, aspirations and expectations of the Indian citizens as a whole

18. This landmark judgment is also going to give massive impetus to further growth of privacy jurisprudence in India.

19. This fundamental Right To Privacy is further going to ultimately help in strengthening the growth of India as a nation as it proceeds forward to deal with various challenges in the digital and mobile ecosystem.

20. The verdict came in the form of a long judgment consisting of 547 pages and its exact significance and impact upon the various verticals and activities of human interests and human endeavour will have to be studied in greater details with the passage of time.

21. After 70 years of Indian independence, India has now tasted a new kind of freedom; a freedom where privacy has been declared as a fundamental right, a freedom from arbitrary and flimsy state action violating personal privacy, a freedom from the personal space being invaded upon by state actors or instrumentality of state. It will be interesting to see how the future development of privacy jurisprudence evolves with the passage of time.

(The author is Asia and India’s leading expert and authority on cyberlaw, cyber security law and mobile law and has been acknowledged as one of the top four cyber-lawyers in the world. He can be contacted at his email addresses pavan@pavanduggal.com and pavanduggal@yahoo.com.)

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