The Supreme Court’s decision holding that the right to privacy is a fundamental right was hailed across sections of the society here. However, many felt the decision should now pave the way for the court to strike down government mandates requiring citizens to link their Aadhaar card to various government services and schemes. Others felt the court ruling will act as a safeguard for individual choices and sexual orientation.
“The Supreme Court has reiterated a very settled principle and given it a seal of approval. A fundamental issue has finally been resolved particularly in context of new technology and invasion of privacy through various other means. It has set to naught any attempt by the government to intrude the private lives of citizens. Such an interpretation of Right to Life is the need of the hour,” said retired judge of the Bombay High Court V M Kanade.
“That the right to privacy is a fundamental one is a universal fact and India is no exception. Therefore, the Supreme Court judgment is welcome,” said Avatthi Ramaiah, professor at the Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
He, however, said there needs to be clarity on the interpretation of the judgment with regards to the Aadhaar card. “The Aadhaar database comprises essential private details of individuals. While there are several benefits of Aadhaar card, it can also be misused and lead to breach of privacy. Whether it will be mandatory for financial transactions is yet to be seen,” said Ramaiah.
Farmers in Maharashtra who are grappling with the state government’s order to make it mandatory for them to link the 7/12 extracts, which denotes a person’s right over a said piece of land with their Aadhaar cards, hope the order will have a bearing on whether they are required to divulge this information.
“As of now the verdict does not seem to have a direct bearing on our sector. However, we hope that it will have some bearing on the Aadhaar card hearing that is expected to be given by the SC. This government has made it mandatory for farmers to link their Aadhaar cards to land records to avail state benefits. It was just a ploy to keep as many farmers out of the ambit of the announced loan waiver,” said Keshav Kakad, an agricultural activist from Niphad in Nashik district.
“This provision did cause a lot of hardship to farmers. Why did they need Aadhaar when we are submitting our land records to the state. We do not know how much today’s decision would impact our lives but the requirement for Aadhaar for every small thing is really creating problems for people,” said Sachin Bodke a farmer from Sakri in Dhule.
Anil Joseph, a citizen activist and resident of Bandra, pointed out that apart from Aadhaar, this verdict would positively impact other laws as well. “The Supreme Court’s verdict will have a bearing on other laws governing LGBT rights and even cyber laws. While the right to privacy has always been an unsaid rule, as a common citizen, it is good to hear that the Supreme Court has now recognised it. The ruling will force the government agencies which collect data from people to be more careful and ensure that it is not leaked,” he said.
Other activists like Right to Information activist Kamlakar Shenoy and citizen activist and member of AGNI Nikhil Desai felt the government has been asking for “too much information” to be linked to Aadhaar card and the SC ruling can keep a check on it. “The Aadhaar card has no confidentiality and who should one blame when people’s private details, which includes bank details, contact details and other documents, are stolen,” said Shenoy.
Recently, the Maharashtra government appealed to the apex court to allow police to inspect homes of citizens on suspicion of beef possession. The Supreme Court verdict on Thursday, however, has brought hope to several beef eaters, broadening the scope of being able to take a decision to their right to eat what they want. “It is okay to check trucks and godowns for beef. But it is a breach of privacy when police enters a house to inspect my refrigerator. What I do or have in my house is a personal matter unless I am breaking the law. We are happy with the SC verdict. It may affect the government’s appeal to infringe upon privacy of people for checking beef,” said Mohammed Ali Qureshi, president of Mumbai Suburban Beef Dealers Association.
Traders, however, believe it may have little impact on incidents of gau rakshaks stopping trucks to inspect if they are transporting beef illegally.
Meanwhile, the right to privacy, recognised as a fundamental right, has also been hailed as a progressive move by LGBTQ community. On Thursday, the nine-judge bench said in its verdict that privacy includes preservation of personal intimacies, home and sexual orientation.
Sushil, 38, attached with Six Degrees which is a professional networking community of LGBTQ community, feels Thursday’s verdict may force validity of Section 377 that criminalises homosexuality to be re-examined. “We should not be held as criminals because of our sexual orientation. If it is consensual, why should people like me be forced to keep it under wraps,” Sushil said.
He added that while a sub-sect of society knows about his sexual orientation, such verdicts will help the entire nation to accept LGBTQ community without bias. “This is a remarkable judgment, because it speaks about people at large and not of one group in silo. I can be gay and eat beef, and the SC has recognised my right to be the way I am,” said Harish Iyer, activist fighting for rights of homosexuals and transgenders. “While this verdict is progressive, it is a long journey before the constitution recognises rights of homosexuals,” he said.
ADGP Sanjay Pandey said, “Legally speaking, with this pronouncement violation of privacy can now be enforced through intervention of high courts and the Supreme Court. While allowing reasonable restrictions by the state which are justifiable, it seeks a robust data protection regime. This will help India’s stature internationally in information technology.”
For social media network companies sharing of persons data for any other use may not be possible. For law enforcement agencies surveillance unless it is “fair just and reasonable” may not be possible. This will include monitoring phones email etc, he said.
M N Singh, former Mumbai Police Commissioner, said, “We are not a police state and therefore one should not view the judgment from a narrow prism of policing. The SC judgment is welcomed by everyone. It will be implemented with reasonable restrictions and therefore as far as police or policing is concerned it should not matter. There are apprehensions that it might affect the investigations of cyber crime but I don’t agree with it.”
Vijay Kuvalekar, retired chief information commissioner, termed it as a landmark judgment stating that individual privacy has now got constitutional protection. “Now, it has to be seen how it will implemented in the RTI Act as some cases the information related to caste certificate, pay slips, etc is referred as personal information,” said Kuvalekar.
He said the SC judgment does not impact government plans of using Aadhaar for welfare schemes. “It should not be used to stall the welfare schemes meant for poor. A balance should be maintained,” he added.
“Given the political environment in the country, and the push for making Aadhaar card compulsory, the Supreme Court’s verdict was unexpected. It is a big win because this will now give precedence to further arguments on Aadhaar, freedom of speech and internet regulations,” said Jay Vyas, a final year Masters student of College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan.