Historic closing for outgoing CJI
The Supreme Court has been making the headlines over the last week, and for the right reasons. First, by ruling against the practice of triple talaq the Supreme Court handed out protection and dignity to the Muslim women of our country, who were freed from the shackles of this primitive practice that had long subjugated their position at the hands of their lawfully wedded husbands. Yesterday, again the Supreme Court passed a heroic judgment by overturning a 63-year old verdict that had denied privacy as the fundamental right of citizens. India has now propelled itself into the future of civilised economy where individual rights are preserved by the State and their sanctity is guaranteed under the protection of constitutional laws. A nine-judge bench led by Chief Justice JS Khehar provided this verdict after analysing up to 300 judgments from India and abroad.
Justice Chandrachud who provided the crucial 265-page extensive judgment corroborating arguments on behalf of himself and others on the panel clearly stated that "Once privacy is held to be an incident of the protection of life, personal liberty, and of the liberties guaranteed by the provisions of Part III of the Constitution, the submission that privacy is only a right at common law misses the wood for trees." The idea of privacy is largely debatable. Protecting illegality in the name of adorning privacy still, stands inappropriate. An adequate understanding of privacy would circumscribe the ideas of choice; choices of life, living, livelihood—as long as they do not infringe upon national integrity and protection of national security. "Privacy postulates the reservation of a private space for the individual, described as the right to be let alone. The concept is founded on the autonomy of the individual. The ability of an individual to make choices lies at the core of human personality," further added Justice Chandrachud while reading his verdict.
In a growing world of disintegrating individuals, State boycott towards choices has only aggravated situations of emanating crises rather than providing a conditioning bed. The judgment regarding the Right to Privacy raises several questions. Particularly with respect to the erstwhile propagation of Aadhaar card as a mandatory identity proof for all residents living in the country. The biometric system of identity recording along with the compulsion to link this Unique ID to bank accounts has perturbed several citizens regarding the extent to which their information stands protected given the free hand of access the government can have on all data relating to their actions. A three-judge bench is scheduled to examine and provide a verdict on the validity and extent to which the Aadhar will continue to be effective in the country. In all likelihood, the Aadhar is expected to stay with new, clear guidelines regarding its application and usage. The ruling by the Supreme Court allows the government to collate data without being accused of infringing upon individual privacy only as long as the methods are utilised for national security, policy making on the controlled distribution of scarce national resources, food, and other essential items. The world of the internet while opening up many doors has also aggravated the threat to data security. The Supreme Court has recognised the challenge that sharing data can project, as meta data firms could exploit preserved data for commercial purposes. The SC has asked the government to provide a robust data protection regime that would preserve all information provided with citizens securing it from threats of malpractice or exploitation. The threat of cyber security infringement looming large has compelled the SC to recognise the invasion of private homes through digital means as a real problem of the 21st century.
"We are in an information age. The information explosion has manifold advantages but also some disadvantages. The access to information, which an individual may not want to give, needs the protection of privacy," said Justice Kishan Kaul in his separate judgment. Deliberations are already underway on formulating a new law on data collection and usage. This verdict spelt out with great clarity that the previous ruling was inappropriate as it sabotaged the fundamental right of every citizen to choose their path of life and also now the fundamental right to protect their own privacy. This week has indeed heralded a new vision for India. As Chief Justice Khehar concludes his last week in office, he will be remembered for passing two historic judgments that have provided relief and upheld the ideal of a democracy where the citizen stands at the pinnacle.