The Supreme Court in a recent turn of events declared that the right to privacy is a basic fundamental right of each and every citizen of the country. This is indicative of the growing acceptance of privacy of individuals in the legislative jurisprudence.
In earlier cases like that of MP Sharma and Others vs Satish Chandra, the right to privacy was invoked when a probe showed proof of malpractices within the Ms Dalmia Jain Airways Group, where false balance sheets and accounts were submitted in order to hide the real state of affairs for the shareholders. The District Magistrate issued warrants and searches were carried out at various places belonging to the group. The distressed party argued that their right to privacy had been violated but the court stated that the right to privacy was not a fundamental right. It also stated that the process of search and seizure was a temporary interference for which statutory interference was not necessary.
In another case of Kharak Singh vs The state of UP, the issue was raked up again. The petitioner was let off in a case of dacoity due to lack of evidence. But the UP police took up the case again and put him on surveillance. This was done keeping in mind the Chapter XX of the UP Police regulations. It included secret picketing of the house, domiciliary visits at night and periodic enquiries by officers not below the rank of a sub inspector into repute, habits, associations, income etc. Claiming that this was an infringement of his rights, he filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court seeking the constitutional validity of Chapter XX. The court stated that:
the right to privacy was not a guaranteed fundamental right. But it struck down the provision allowing the domiciliary visits as unconstitutional.
The case was brought into the light once again when in 2012, Retired Justice K.S Puttaswamy filed a petition in the supreme court challenging the constitutionality of the biometric identification program, Adhaar. While it was argued by the government that the right of poor to subsidy benefits that can be accessed only through Adhaar, outweighs the right to privacy, the court argued otherwise. The supreme court stated that the right to privacy applicable for all. While the centre argued that right to privacy can be protected by constitutional statutes. But such statutes can be changed, modified and or annulled to the compulsion of the legislative majorities.
The 9 judges bench also scrapped the 2014 judgement of section 377 and stated that it posed a grave danger to the unhindered fulfilment of one’s sexual orientation, which is an aspect of one’s privacy and dignity. They also observed that the fact the LGBT community comprises of a minuscule fraction of the total population was not a good enough basis to deny them the right to privacy.
While the court has declared that right to privacy as a fundamental right, it is yet the define the contours of what constitutes privacy and what will not be included in it. Although the decision to declare it a fundamental right is a landmark decision in itself, this is just the beginning. The court has not yet made a decision on the Adhaar scheme, which has become the foundation for accessing government welfare programmes, filing tax returns and is also required for making online transactions. It has yet to make a judgement on section 377 as well, although it seems we are on the right track. But like Robert Frost said in his famous poem:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles before I sleep
And miles before I sleep.