Explainer: What is the Right to Privacy judgement Background?

When is the judgement expected?

The Right to Privacy judgement is expected today, after a wait of over two years, or 744 days. See timeline of orders.

How did we get here?

In 2015, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi while defending the Aadhaar project that seeks to assign every resident a biometric ID, argued that Indians have no right to privacy under the Indian Constitution. This shocked observers and legal experts. The government’s claim would set back the privacy debate by over 50 years.
Over decades, the Supreme Court has in its judgements read the right to privacy into the Constitution. The highest court in doing so had recognised that without a right to privacy, the right to liberty and freedom of expression cannot survive. The government’s claim threatened our basic rights.

So this case is not about Aadhaar but it still is?

Yes, today’s judgement is specifically on if there is a right to privacy under the Indian Constitution. A bench of nine judges including the Chief Justice of India, Justice Khehar, Justices Jasti Chelameswar, SA Bobde, RK Agarwal, Rohinton Nariman, AM Sapre, DY Chandrachud, SK Kaul and S Abdul Nazeer will give their verdict on right to privacy. After this is decided, a smaller bench will take a final call on the Aadhaar project.

In the interim period of two years of a wait for the Right to Privacy judgement, the Government of India has blatantly violated the prior orders of the Court restraining the use and expansion of Aadhaar. It has linked and made Aadhaar mandatory for filing taxes, operating bank accounts, for children’s schemes to get school lunches, scholarships, taking exams, stipends for the disabled, causing immense hardship to ordinary citizens.

As it has since its start, the Aadhaar project has run ahead of the law. The government has tried to force people to enrol citizens to enroll in the project and cited the enrolment numbers as justification for continuing the project, with no respect for citizens’ legal rights, and their consent.

What is the big deal about privacy?

Privacy is the basis of the freedom to dissent. With unfettered surveillance, every time you disagree with the state, they can take advantage of the huge imbalance of information between them and you. They can put you under pressure to concede or use information that you did not even know they possessed to embattle you in court. And their story need not be true. The availability of mass data does not automatically reveal the truth. The truth has to be extracted from it. The details of your phone calls, movements, purchases, demographics and social interactions can be used to construct any number of different truths.

Aadhaar links multiple databases, and the Aadhaar database stores your “meta-data” authentication records, which can reveal the fine details of whom you  interact with, where you travel, which organisation you donate to, which hospital you visit, building a 360 degree profile of you.

If Aadhaar is “deactivated”, it can threaten to cut off a citizen from essential services. The mere existence of such an infrastructure will stifle dissent. How comfortable are you with that?

Don't be an Aadhaar Adarsh Balak, fight for your privacy!