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3 Aug 2017

Supreme Court reserves ruling on privacy being a fundamental right

Supreme Court building in New Delhi.HT, New Delhi, 2 August 2017: A nine-judge bench led by Chief Justice JS Khehar on Wednesday reserved its verdict on the question whether privacy is a fundamental right under the Constitution.

The marathon arguments that began on July 19 lasted for six days and ended with BJP-ruled Gujarat rejecting the idea of privacy being a privilege under the Constitution.

The judgement is likely to be pronounced before August 27, the date when CJI demits office. It will have a bearing on the petitions pending before the SC against Aadhaar, which the government says is a tool to ensure the poor get benefits of its welfare schemes.

Petitioners in the Aadhaar case have assailed the scheme because they believe collection of biometric data impinges one’s privacy and can be leaked.

Earlier in the day, one of the bench members — Justice DY Chandrachud cautioned that privacy could not be raised to a level so as to stifle innovation. “…those adjudicating on privacy must ensure that our quest for innovation is not stifled”.
The judge intervened counsel Rakesh Dwivedi — arguing for Gujarat — and noted: “India is a powerhouse today only because of its 1.4 billion population” and this “created a huge demand”.

According to him privacy levels would vary for three zones — intimate, private and public — and is modulated according to the socio-cultural position of a person. State interference will be minimal in the first zone that encompasses family and personal relationships, he said.

The second was the zone where an individual shares personal data for availing a service he said. “The data so submitted must be used only for the purpose for which it is given”, he added pointing privacy levels will be minimal in the public zone.

Dwivedi submitted that instead of making privacy a fundamental right, the court must test it on a case-to-case basis. He said it must also be taken note of that large corporations outside India “which are more powerful that the Indian state” are controlling the information flow.

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