Right To Privacy

Surveillance and human rights


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Right to privacy

Mains level : Paper 2- Surveillance and its impact on democracy


The Pegasus revelations reflect an attack on Indian democracy and Indian citizens.

Role of government in protecting the fundamental and human rights of citizens

  • The surveillance of the target group in India through Pegasus raises doubts about the functioning of democracy in India.
  • Constitutional duty of government: The government has a constitutional duty to protect the fundamental and human rights of its citizens, irrespective of who they are.
  • There is clear evidence that the rule of law has been undermined.
  • More evidently, this reflects extremely poor governance.
  • The Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing, and the National Security Council Secretariat should have forewarned the government and citizens against such surveillance seriously violating privacy and fundamental rights.
  • The Supreme Court, in K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India (2017), declared privacy a constitutionally protected value.

Violation of human rights

  • India is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Article 12 provides that everyone has the right to the protection of the law against arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence.
  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, also signed by India, in Article 17 states, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
  • In K.S. Puttaswamy, the Supreme Court noted India’s commitments under international law and held that by virtue of Article 51 of the Constitution, India has to endeavour to “foster respect for international law and treaty obligations…”
  • The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 is a fallout of this commitment.

Recommendations on digital communication technologies

  • The annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) in 2014 made recommendations on “digital communications technologies”.
  • Judicial oversight: The UNHCHR report stated, judicial involvement that meets international standards can help to make it more likely that the overall statutory regime will meet the minimum standards that international human rights law requires.
  • At the same time, the report stated that judicial involvement in oversight should not be viewed as a panacea.
  • Independent body: The report also recommended an independent oversight body to keep checks.
  • Effective remedy to victim: The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requires states parties to ensure that victims of violations of the Covenant have an effective remedy.
  • Role of business: The report also dealt with the role of businesses and stated that when a state requires that an information and communications technology company provide user data, it can only supply it in respect of legitimate reasons.
  • Earlier, due to concerns of member states, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 68/167 affirming that rights held by people offline must also be protected online.
  • The resolution also called upon all states to respect and protect the right to privacy, including in digital communication.


Indians have a right to call upon NSO to terminate the agreement, if any, with the Indian government or any private player and to cooperate with citizens to unravel the truth.

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