Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, representing the Centre in the Aadhaar card controversy, told the Supreme Court in July that the Aadhaar scheme cannot be scrapped under the argument that it violates the Right to Privacy, because it is not a fundamental right under the Constitution. Rohatgi’s statement has sparked debate about the necessity of a right to privacy and the need to protect it. The Aadhaar scheme is the world’s largest biometric enrolment scheme, and if successful, information from the card can be used to distribute benefits to the poor and eliminate many middle men, a root cause of corruption.
But, when the UPA government launched the Aadhaar scheme in 2009, it created no legal framework that could protect citizens against a breach of their privacy, or misuse of information provided in the Aadhaar card. A major concern for many is that the information from the Aadhaar can be used for spying, or even misused by many private organizations that had initially been roped in for collecting data for the Aadhaar.
But when we have decided to voluntarily provide our personal details to the Government, ranging from retina scans to fingerprints, why is our right to privacy so important?
It is important because it is our fundamental right. It may not be explicitly detailed in the Constitution, but it is a basic human right that guarantees our liberty. The Government, in the past few months, hasn’t managed to create an image that can guarantee that their interpretation of the law can protect citizens’ privacy. A case in point can be the decision to ban porn websites to preserve ‘morality’ and ‘decency’.
Rohatgi’s statement has simply prompted the Supreme Court to defer the decision on the Right to Privacy to a Constitutional bench, dragging this issue, like any other, for a time-frame that can significantly help anyone misuse the situation. The Centre believes that the right to privacy flows from ‘one right to another right’, and yes, there is a major confusion as to whether the right to privacy can change from situation to situation. Two major examples of this are installation of CCTV cameras in public spaces to ensure safety for women, and the Nira Radia tape scandal, in which Ratan Tata claimed that their privacy was impinged by the media by intercepting their telephonic conversations, which radically affected their image in front of the public.
What we need to understand is that Right to Privacy means right to protect our Right to Life under article 21 of the Indian Constitution, and the need for a legal framework to do so. Those who feel violated by CCTV cameras should have equal rights to protect their privacy and ask for it, as much as a Ratan Tata. But without the basic right to appeal or create a legal argument, how can we guarantee safety for citizens? Aadhaar is part of the solution, but implementing it shouldn’t put the whole population at risk.