Right to privacy—what it entails and what not

By Kanika Rangray

The world’s largest democracy, India, as it is written and said is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Yet the government, one which the people elected to represent them, seems to have forgotten it and that is why in its absurdity says right to privacy is not a fundamental right.

Photo credit: www.youtube.com
Photo credit: www.youtube.com

In response, the Supreme Court reprimanded the government saying: “If a man is not safe in his own house, then what remains in Article 21? Where is the liberty then? If privacy is not there in liberty, then what else can be there? To say that it (right to privacy) is not at all there, will not be right. We will not accept it.”

What does it imply—is the terminology of the constitution too ambiguous or are people too dense to understand it?

This entire propaganda of ‘right to privacy in India’ started with arguments saying that the government collecting and sharing biometric information, as required for the Aadhaar card, is a direct breach of the “fundamental” right to privacy.

Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, submitted to the apex court a proposition, asking the SC to form a Constitutional bench to give a final decision on the fundamental status of the right to privacy.

So, it once again comes down to legal loopholes and vague terminology of the constitution raising another controversy. Sometimes it is the right to free speech, another time it is the right to privacy.

Every single time one or the other party raises a question on what it includes and what it does not include.

Let us once again go through the words of the Preamble to the Indian Constitution:

“WE THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:

JUSTICE, social, economic and political;

LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;

EQUALITY of status and opportunity;

and to promote among them all

FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;”

The responsibility lies with the people of India—after all the Constitution gets its authority from them—to decide if right to privacy is fundamental and, as the Supreme Court says, included in the right to liberty mentioned in Article 21.

Going towards international borders, the European Court of Justice, Europe’s highest court, granted an unusual right which was widely welcomed by privacy advocates and criticised by preachers of free speech—right to be forgotten.

Under this ruling, Europeans who felt they were being misrepresented by online search results that were no longer accurate or relevant—like information about old financial matters or misdeeds committed as a minor—could ask search engines like Google to delink the material.

Photo credit: www.intellectualpropertymagazine.com
Photo credit: www.intellectualpropertymagazine.com

If the request of the person is approved, then the information would remain online at the official site, but would no longer be available under certain search engine queries.

The base for the demand of “the right to be forgotten” was laid in 2010 when a Spanish lawyer, Mario Costeja González, asked Google to remove two online links.

Mr González’s attempts to get the US search engine to remove links to notices of an auction to pay off his debts in 1998 resulted in the introduction to ‘right to be forgotten’ after he took his fight to Europe’s highest court.

This ruling burdened big internet companies like Google and Microsoft with new responsibilities.

In an interview to the New York Times, Larry Page, Google’s chief executive, termed the “right to be forgotten” as impractical as it forced Google to decide what constituted private information and what did not.

“You guys are now in charge of editing what’s out there in the world,” he said describing the court’s guidance to Google. “In the past that’s not a responsibility we felt we had.”

After looking at all the issues revolving around one particular phrase “right to privacy”, both in India and abroad, and analysing all the information gathered, only one conclusion is reached—right to privacy is a phrase so vague that its implementation and its interpretation depends upon person to person, enterprise to enterprise, government to government, and country to country.

Despite the incessant deliberations on “privacy”, there has been no befitting answer to define its tenets, as to what entails the right of privacy.