SC Wraps Up Hearing on Right to Privacy
The verdict is likely to be out before Justice JS Khehar demits office on Aug 27
Samanwaya Rautray New Delhi: The Supreme Court wrapped up hearings on whether privacy was a fundamental right guaranteed to all citizens under the Constitution.
A nine-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India JS Khehar reserved its verdict on the issue on Wednesday. The ruling will likely come before August 27, when Khehar demits office. The bench grappled with all facets of privacy since July 18, when it first convened. The hearing was necessitated after the government argued while defending the Aadhaar identity scheme that citizens had no such fundamental right.
Petitions had been filed opposing the linking of Aadhaar with the permanent account number issued to income tax payers. Those opposed to Aadhaar had challenged its allpervasive, mandatory nature as a violation of the fundamental right to privacy of a citizen. The government contended through Attorney General KK Venugopal that privacy was only a common law right. Not all aspects of privacy could be elevated to the status of a fundamental right, Ve- nugopal had argued.
Congress-ruled states including Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka had argued in favour of declaring privacy a fundamental right, as did West Bengal. States ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party such as Maharashtra and Gujarat opposed it. The Unique Identity Development Authority of India, the agency that enrols citizens for Aadhaar and issues the 12-digit identity number, argued that privacy was an elusive notion in the online age. “Whether or not the court declares it as a fundamental right, there is very little of it left in this information age,” additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta contended.
Biometric data collected by UIDAI cannot be used by the state to track citizens, he claimed. It was a technical impossibility, Mehta said, arguing that even if the state were to get a court order, it could not obtain any information except the fact that a citizen had used it to authenticate identity.
The court will now rule on the matter. The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, will accordingly be tested by a smaller bench for validity.
If privacy is declared a fundamental right, the government will have to prove that Aadhaar is a reasonable restriction on the right or risk having it struck down as a violation of the right.