On August 24, 2017, a Supreme Court of India nine-judge panel issued its judgement in the significant constitutional case of Puttaswamy v Union of India. The Supreme Court decided unanimously in a 547-page decision that privacy is a constitutionally guaranteed right in India.This is a landmark decision that will almost certainly result in constitutional challenges to a wide variety of Indian laws.This is a landmark decision that will almost certainly result in constitutional challenges to a wide variety of Indian laws.
The lawsuit stemmed from a constitutional challenge to the Aadhaar initiative, which intends to create a database of personal identification and biometric data for every Indian citizen.More than a billion Indians have signed up for the Aadhaar programme, which assigns residents a 12-digit number that corresponds to biometric data like eye scans and fingerprints. For submitting tax reports, creating bank accounts, getting loans, buying and selling property, and even making purchases of 50,000 rupees or more, registration is now required.
In 2012, retired Justice K.S. Puttaswamy filed a case in the Supreme Court contesting Aadhaar’s legality, claiming that it infringes on the right to privacy. In light of a unanimous ruling by eight judges in M.P. Sharma v. Satish Chandra and a judgement by a majority of four judges in Kharak Singh v. State. The Government claimed that there was no constitutional right to privacy.
The case was heard by a three-judge Bench of the Court, which ruled that the matter be referred to a larger Bench of the Court on August 11, 2015. A five-judge Constitutional Court ordered that the case be considered by a nine-judge panel on July 18, 2017.The panel hearing the constitutional challenge to Aadhaar issued an interim ruling limiting mandatory Aadhaar linkage for benefits distribution as it awaited clarification on the right to privacy.
The Court’s nine judges issued six different opinions, resulting in what must be the longest reasoned decision ever issued by a court. Only a few significant ideas can be gleaned from these judgements, which defy succinct summaries.Dr D Y Chandrachud J delivered the main decision in 266 pages on behalf of four judges. It goes into the Indian case law on privacy and the basis of constitutional rights in great depth. It also takes into account Privacy Comparative Law (Representing the United Kingdom, the United States, South Africa, Canada, the European Court of Human Rights, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights) Various objections of the privacy doctrine are addressed, including those from Bork, Posner, and feminist critics.
The judges’ concurring views in this case reaffirmed the right to privacy, recognising that it encompasses autonomy over personal decisions (e.g., beef consumption), physical integrity (e.g., reproductive rights), and the protection of personal information (e.g. privacy of health records). Specific ramifications of this right were discussed in the concurring decisions.J. Chandrachud (on behalf of himself, C.J. Kehar, J. Agrawal, and J. Nazeer): this decision said that while an individual is in the public arena, their privacy is not completely relinquished. It also concluded that the right to privacy encompassed both the negative right against state intervention, such as when homosexuality was criminalised, and the positive right to be protected by the state.
The Court also acknowledged that the right was not absolute, but that it may be limited if it was given by law, related to a legitimate state goal, and was proportionate to the goal it intended to achieve.