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Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Thursday said the Supreme Court verdict on right to privacy heralds a new era for individual rights and human dignity and strikes a blow on "unbridled encroachment and surveillance" by the state and its agencies in the common man's life.
Welcoming the judgment, she said the Congress party and its governments along with opposition parties stood together in court and in Parliament in speaking out for the right and against, what she called, the "arrogant attempts" of the Centre to curtail them.
The Aadhaar Act puts in place a tough ecosystem for disclosure of individual data. In the last 3 years, we have saved close to 57,000 crore rupees that earlier used to go to middlemen. The whole world appreciates the technological marvel that is Aadhaar. The system works on the principle of minimum information, maximum use, says IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.
The Attorney General had said that like all other rights, Right to Privacy too is not an absolute right. The government has formed a high-powered committee for data protection, which the Supreme Court has noted. The court clearly acknowledges the need for a robust data regime to balance sensitive concerns between individual interest and state interest, says IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad address media on Right to Privacy verdict, says government welcomes the ruling. "The government has been of the view that privacy is a fundamental right, but it should be subjec to reasonable restriction.... The issue is being debated since even before the BJP came to power. The congress-led UPA had brought in Aadhaar without any law. What is Congress's record of protecting individual records?" he says. "Right to Privacy not absolute. It is subject to the same conditions as other fundamental rights."
ON AADHAAR | "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’
Apart from Section 377, Supreme Court's Right to Privacy verdict also has far-reaching impact on euthanasia and the debate surrounding abortions. Here’s what Justice Chelameshwar's verdict says on both issues:
ON EUTHANASIA | “It is sufficient to go by the understanding that the right to privacy consists of three facets i.e. repose, sanctuary and intimate decision. Each of these facets is so essential for the liberty of human beings that I see no reason to doubt that the right to privacy is part of the liberty guaranteed by our Constitution…. An individual’s rights to refuse life prolonging medical treatment or terminate his life is another freedom which fall within the zone of the right of privacy.”
ON ABORTION | “A woman’s freedom of choice whether to bear a child or abort her pregnancy are areas which fall in the realm of privacy…. To sanctify an argument that whatever is not found in the text of the Constitution cannot become a part of the Constitution would be too primitive an understanding of the Constitution and contrary to settled cannons of constitutional interpretation. Such an approach regarding the rights and liberties of citizens would be an affront to the collective wisdom of our people and the wisdom of the members of the Constituent Assembly…. Constitution is not merely a document signed by 284 members of the Constituent Assembly. It is a politically sacred instrument created by men and women who risked lives and sacrificed their liberties to fight alien rulers and secured freedom for our people, not only of their generation but generations to follow. The Constitution cannot be seen as a document written in ink to replace one legal regime by another.”
"Privacy is an intrinsic recognition of heterogeneity, of the right of the individual to be different and to stand against the tide of conformity in creating a zone of solitude. Privacy protects the individual from the searching glare of publicity in matters which are personal to his or her life. Privacy attaches to the person and not to the place where it is associated," said Justice Chandrachud.
"Sexual orientation is an essential attribute of privacy. Discrimination against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation is deeply offensive to the dignity and self-worth of the individual. Equality demands that the sexual orientation of each individual in society must be protected on an even platform. The right to privacy and the protection of sexual orientation lies at the core of the fundamental rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution," said Justice Chandrachud.
Section 377 judgment is bad in law: “The chilling effect on the exercise of the right poses a grave danger to the unhindered fulfilment of one’s sexual orientation, as an element of privacy and dignity. The chilling effect is due to the danger of a human being subjected to social opprobrium or disapproval, as reflected in the punishment of crime. Hence, the Koushal rationale that prosecution of a few is not an index of violation is flawed and cannot be accepted. Consequently, we disagree with the manner in which has dealt with the privacy Koushal dignity based claims of LGBT persons on this aspect," said Justice Chandrachud in his historic order on privacy.
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The Right to Privacy, Chief Justice JS Khehar said, is intrinsic to the right to life and is hence, a part of Article 21, part 3, of the Constitution of India.
“It’s a big victory for civil liberties in the country... Today, with this judgment, it is recognized as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. All previous judgments have been overruled. That is important. It affects not just Aaadhar, but also phone tapping cases. Also, the cases on homosexuality. We have to look at today's judgment in totality to understand how many implications it has. On Aadhaar, of course, it will be deliberated before the court whether Aadhaar infringes the right to privacy, or not. But we believe Aadhaar in its present form cannot function, says advocate Rahul Narayan and S Prasanna, who represented the petitioners.
The Supreme Court has said that privacy is a fundamental right, but did it define privacy?
Privacy is not defined in India. Many previous court judgments have said it is difficult to define. Therefore, all controversies like Section 377, Aadhaar, Section 66 etc. will have to be dealt on a case-to-case basis.
Following is the chronology of Supreme Court hearings in the right to privacy case —
Jul 7: Three-judge bench says issues arising out of Aadhaar should finally be decided by larger bench and CJI would take a call o the need for setting up a constitution bench.
Jul: Matter mentioned before CJI who sets up a five- judge constitution bench to hear the matter.
Jul 18: Five-judge constitution bench decides to set up a nine-judge bench to decide whether the right to privacy can be declared a fundamental right under the Constitution.
Nine-judge bench (Chief Justice J S Khehar, Justices J Chelameswar, S A Bobde, R K Agrawal, Rohinton Fali Nariman, Abhay Manohar Sapre, D Y Chandrachud, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and S Abdul Nazeer) constituted to hear the privacy matter.
Jul 19: SC says right to privacy can't be absolute, may be regulated.
Jul 19: Centre tells SC that right to privacy is not a fundamental right.
Jul 26: Karnataka, West Bengal, Punjab and Puducherry, the four non-BJP ruled states move SC in favour of right to privacy.
Jul 26: Centre tells SC that privacy can be fundamental right with some riders.
Jul 27: Maharashtra government tells SC that privacy is not a "standalone" right, but it is rather a concept.
Aug 1: SC says there has to be "overarching" guidelines to protect an individual's private information in public domain.
Aug 2: SC says protection of the concept of privacy in the technological era was a "losing battle", reserves verdict.
Aug 24: SC declares right to privacy as fundamental right under the Constitution.
What is a fundamental right?
Fundamental rights define the basic structure of the Constitution and are enshrined under Part III of the Constitution. The fundamental rights are defined as the basic freedoms that every Indian enjoys. The most notable of them are — Article 14: Right To Equality, Article 15: No discrimination on the basis of caste, gender, sex, or religion, Article 19 — freedom of speech and expression along with reasonable restrictions, and Article 21: a right to life and liberty of an Individual. Today’s verdict is a monumental one as Right to Privacy has now been brought under the ambit of Article 21, which guarantees life and liberty. Article 21, which guarantees an individual unobstructed right to life with dignity, acts like an umbrella, ensuring a right to food, right to shelter, and now the right to privacy. By overruling MP Sharma and the Kharak Singh cases, the Supreme Court has now set a precedent of a nine-judge bench verdict for the country to follow.
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