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Privacy: A right on the face but an option in reality

Privacy: A right on the face but an option in reality

By Byomakesha Kumar Singh

There is no denial of the fact that constitution is the law of the land. Every citizen is bound to obey it. But what if the constitution, itself, is ambiguous, regarding a particular concept? What the citizens should do then? One such ambiguous concept is the concept of ‘privacy’, which unfortunately is not defined in the constitution. Every person has his or her own concept of privacy. What may be private for one may not be private for another. Without going into much intricacies of the law and various judgements, let’s look how the right of privacy has become an option in reality.

The Supreme Court, in K. Puttuswamy’s case held privacy to be a fundamental right.[1] Paradoxically, the government is asking the citizens to have ‘aadhaar cards’. In a layman’s language, Aadhaar card is a type of ID card which contains the details of individuals such as their names, address, etc. By issuing these cards, government also has access to their biological details such as fingerprints. This will help the government in various ways, like giving the enefits to individuals of a particular scheme, prevent crimes, etc. There is a fine line between making a law for welfare and misusing the law in the name of welfare. One simple question- What will the government do with one’s retina details or other intricate biological details. Isn’t it too much? Even though the government proclaims that these details would be kept safe, but we cannot ignore the flip side of it. What if these details get in the hands of a mischievous hacker? He can do many unimaginable things with these details. He can hack someone’s bank account, issue illegal things by using someone’s details. How dangerous will that be for a citizen, for whom submitting these details has become an obligation. What must be remembered is that we have elected a government to protect us, not intrude into our privacy in the name of protection.

In another shocking turn of events, a girl was asked to remove her innerwear in order to give the NEET examination in 2017. In a nation, where a woman is revered as a Goddess, a woman is asked to do such an act. What was argued by the CBSE, which conducts the NEET exams was that it was done in order to “secure the sanctity” of the examination. Wasn’t it a violation of her right to privacy? There are myriad of ways to ensure that students don’t cheat. CBSE should have pondered over that. One can’t “secure the sanctity” of examination by hurting someone’s dignity. Right to dignity is one’s fundamental right under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which should not be infringed.[2]

Mark Zuckerberg is alleged of violation of data privacy. No proper steps have been taken in order to ensure data privacy remains intact. It is as vulnerable as it always was. Gary Kovaus aptly said that “Privacy is not an option, and it shouldn’t be the price we accept for just getting on internet.”

What we can clearly see is that privacy has many facets, from a student giving an examination, to using social networking sites to registering for any government scheme. However, by looking at the contentions raised, we can say that we are living in an era where we literally are left with no privacy and still right to privacy is our fundamental right. Isn’t it ironical? The courts too are to be blamed for this. Even though the apex court held the right to privacy as fundamental right, yet it hasn’t laid down any proper guidelines or framework under which it can be ascertained whether a particular thing comes under the ambit of privacy of or not. The verdict does not recognize privacy as an absolute right. A law which encroaches upon privacy will have to withstand the touchstone of permissible restrictions on fundamental rights. But what are these “permissible limits” is not clearly mentioned. Even though the judiciary has started taking steps, such as scrapping section 377 off the Indian Penal Code which talks about unnatural offences and unnatural sex. The Court held that it is the choice of an individual to have his/her preference. One cannot intrude in his/her bedroom and violate his/her privacy. However, still a not needs to be done. Privacy must be given a proper definition and proper framework must be established in order to ascertain the ambit of privacy. Furthermore, consumers must be made aware of voluntarily sharing information and no data should be collected without their consent. India could also learn from the regimes like those followed in other countries in order to overcome the data protection insecurities. The future of India’s trade depends on striking an effective balance between personal liberties and secure means of commerce.

There is no denial of the fact that intrusion is sometimes necessary for various reasons such as national security, giving benefits of various schemes, etc. But there must be some reasonable limit to this. One can’t ask a person to remove his clothes in the name of “securing the sanctity” of something. As J.S. Mill in his essay, “On Liberty” rightly gave expression to the need to preserve a zone within which the liberty of citizen would be free from the authority of the state. Hence, right to preserve can’t be put to risk in the name of state interest. The state is the means and the individual is the end.


[1] Justice K.S. Puttuswamy (Retd.) v. UOI, 2017

[2] Maneka Gandhi v. UOI, AIR 1978 SC 597.

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