Right to Privacy verdict is out, But Aadhaar case yet to be tested
A nine-judge Constitution Bench of the Indian Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously decided that Indians have a fundamental right to privacy, a protection it read into Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees a right to life and personal liberty. The historic ruling emerged out after a series of petitions challenging the legality of the Aadhaar project was in the court. While people cheered the verdict, the SC's decision does not strike down government's project Aadhaar. At least until the court tests it again.
The Supreme Court started hearing the Right to Privacy case because of petitions challenging the validity of Aadhaar, a project to give every Indian resident a unique 12-digit ID that includes their biometric data. Over the course of the Supreme Court's hearings in the Aadhaar matter, the bench decided that it needed to first settle the question of whether Indians have a fundamental right to privacy. Only then could it take up the question of the legality of the Aadhaar project.
As this case is connected to Aadhaar, it is inevitable that most of the initial reactions are only focusing about Aadhaar project. But its is premature. The nine-judge Constitution bench was not considering the merits or legality of Aadhaar. It was only examining the broader question of whether Indians have a fundamental right to privacy at all. Now that privacy has been acknowledged as one, Aadhaar will have to be tested against that recognised right - a test that will likely take place through hearings by another Supreme Court Constitution bench. Until then, Aadhaar remains as it is.
But this decision will go far beyond the Aadhaar project. There will be questions on Section 377, a provision in the Indian Penal Code that criminalises gay sex. It could also have a bearing on ways that the Indian state collects data and evidence, such as through wire-tapping or in the proposed DNA bill.
Aadhaar is just one of the elements in this historic ruling. The broader picture as of Thursday's decision is that Indians can cheer the fact that Right to Privacy is a fundamental right.