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Right to Privacy a fundamental right: Implications of the SC verdict

By Shreya

A nine-judge Constitution bench on August 24, 2017 unanimously held that Right to Privacy is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 and Part III of the Indian Constitution.

Right to Privacy a fundamental right: Implications of the SC verdict

The Apex Court in its judgment concluded, "The right of privacy is a fundamental right. It is a right which protects the inner sphere of the individual from interference from both State, and non-State actors and allows the individuals to make autonomous life choices."

The verdict to declare Right to Privacy is a landmark judgment as the Supreme Court overruled its eight-judge and six-judge verdict respectively in the cases of M.P Sharma in 1950 and Kharak Singh in 1962 in which the verdicts held that Right to Privacy is not a fundamental right.

Privacy as defined by the Judgment - Privacy, in its simplest sense, allows each human being to be left alone in a core which is inviolable. Yet the autonomy of the individual is conditioned by her relationships with the rest of society. Those relationships may and do often pose questions to autonomy and free choice ...

Understanding the verdict:

What is a fundamental right? Fundamental rights are those that are guaranteed to every Indian Citizen and falls under Part III of the Constitution. Fundamental rights allow every citizen the following:

  • Right to equality - Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, gender or place of birth
  • Right to freedom - Freedom of speech and expression, freedom of assembly, association or union or cooperatives, movement, residence
  • Right against exploitation - Prohibitions of all form s of forced labour
  • Right to freedom of religion - Freedom to profess, practice all religion
  • Cultural and Educational rights - Ensures the right of every citizen is able to conserve their language, culture and administer, establish their choice of educational institutions
  • Right to enforcement of Constitutional remedies - Right to enforce fundamental rights

Why is this a landmark verdict? The Supreme Court has held that Right to Privacy is intrinsic to the fundamental rights of a citizen guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, overruling its earlier judgments on the matter.

Implications of the verdict:

Activist and Public interest lawyer Prashant Bhushan tweeted, "Kudos to the SC for holding Right to Privacy a fundamental right under Art 21. Aadhaar Act & any other law will be tested on reasonableness,"

Here are some of the Supreme Court verdicts that will be affected by today's verdict that declared Right to Privacy a Fundamental Right

  • Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code: This section of the Indian Penal Code has been a reason for worry for the sexual minorities as it criminalises same sex relationships (unnatural sex). However, with Right to Privacy being upheld as a fundamental right. The Supreme Court's verdict on section 377 stands challenged.
  • Justice Chandrachud said, "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."
  • On Euthanasia and Abortion: An individual's rights to refuse life prolonging medical treatment or terminate his life is another freedom which falls within the zone of the right of privacy. I am conscious of the fact that the issue is pending before this Court. But in various other jurisdictions, there is a huge debate on those issues though it is still a grey area.58 A woman's freedom of choice whether to bear a child or abort her pregnancy are areas which fall in the realm of privacy.
  • Section 66a of the IT act: The section which penalised people for posting 'offensive' content on social media, had been struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015 and declared unconstitutional, however, with to Right to Privacy verdict, an individual breaching privacy by on social networking sites could be held accountable.
  • DNA Profiling Bill 2017 - The Bill is a better version than its previous ones, however, has not clarified on privacy and security safeguards, which could be questioned now about Right to privacy has been declared a fundamental right by the Supreme Court

The verdict on Right to Privacy could have implications on several other issues, and which only be understood over the course of time.

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