The Supreme Court on Thursday cautioned about the dangers to privacy in a digital era and asked the government to set up a robust regime for ensuring data protection. The apex court said threats to privacy can originate not only from the state but even from “non-state actors” as individuals are constantly generating valuable data which can be used by private parties to “track their moves, choices and preferences.”
“We commend to the Union government the need to examine and put into place a robust regime for data protection. The creation of such a regime requires a careful and sensitive balance between individual interests and legitimate concerns of the state,” the court said.
“The legitimate aims of the state would include for instance protecting national security, preventing and investigating crime, encouraging innovation and the spread of knowledge, and preventing the dissipation of social welfare benefits. These are matters of policy to be considered by the Union government while designing a carefully structured regime for the protection of the data,” Justice D Y Chandrachud, who wrote a separate judgement on behalf of himself, Chief Justice J S Khehar, and Justices R K Agrawal and S A Nazeer said.
The top court noted that the Centre has constituted a committee chaired by Justice B N Srikrishna, a former apex court judge, for this purpose and the issue would be dealt with.
Justice S K Kaul, who wrote a separate 47-page verdict, said that growth and development of technology has resulted in an “information explosion” which has advantages as well as disadvantages.
“The access to information, which an individual may not want to give, needs the protection of privacy. The capacity of non-state actors to invade the home and privacy has also been enhanced. Technological development has facilitated journalism that is more intrusive than ever before,” he said.
Justice Kaul said data is generated not just by active sharing of information, but also passively with every click on the ‘world-wide web’.
“Recently, it was pointed out that ‘Uber’, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. ‘Facebook’, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. ‘Alibaba’, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And ‘Airbnb’, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening,” he said.
Justice J Chelameswar also echoed the same views and said telephone tapping and internet hacking by the government also fell within the realm of the right to privacy.
“Informational traces are also an area which is the subject matter of huge debate in various jurisdictions falling within the realm of the right of privacy, such data is as personal as that of the choice of appearance and apparel. Telephone tappings and internet hacking by state of personal data is another area which falls within the realm of privacy. The instant reference arises out of such an attempt by the Union of India to collect biometric data regarding all the residents of this country,” he said.