Right To Privacy

[op-ed snap] Privacy no longer supreme


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : 2 years of Puttaswamy judgement


It has been two years since the nine-judge Supreme Court bench delivered the judgment in the Puttaswamy case. It asserted that Indians have a constitutionally protected fundamental right to privacy.


It held that privacy is a natural right that inheres in all natural persons and that the right may be restricted only by state action that passes each of the three tests:

  1. such state action must have a legislative mandate
  2. it must be pursuing a legitimate state purpose
  3. it must be proportionate

If the judgment is implemented, the outcomes would be

  1. Govt will undertake structural reforms to bring transparency and openness in the process of commissioning and executing surveillance projects.
  2. Establishing a mechanism of judicial oversight over surveillance requests. 
  3. Govt demonstrates great care and sensitivity in dealing with the personal information of its citizens.
  4. Legislating a transformative, rights-oriented data protection law that holds all-powerful entities that deal with citizens’ personal data accountable.
  5. Data protection law 
    • with the principle that the state must be a model data controller with a higher standard of observance.
    • proscribes the practice of making access to essential services contingent on the citizen parting with irrelevant personal information.
    • establishes an effective privacy commission that is tasked with enforcing, protecting and fulfilling the fundamental right to privacy implemented through the specific rights under the legislation.

However, that is not the case. Examples of govt’s violation of privacy 

  1. The Ministry of Home Affairs authorized 10 Central agencies to “intercept, monitor and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer in the country”.
  2. Ministry of Information Broadcasting floated a tender for ‘Social Media Monitoring Hub’ to snoop on all social media communications, including e-mail. The government had to withdraw the project.
  3. A similar social media surveillance program was floated in by the UIDAI.
  4. I-T department has its ‘Project Insight’ which also has similar mass surveillance ends.
  5. Economic Survey commends the government for having been able to sell and monetize the vehicle owners’ data in the Vahan database

Way ahead

  1. A rights-oriented data protection legislation is the need of the hour. 
  2. Comprehensive surveillance reform and prohibiting mass surveillance 
  3. Institution of a judicial oversight mechanism for targeted surveillance 
  4. State ought to be a model data controller as it deals with its citizens’ personal information.
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