CASE: Justice K.S.Puttaswamy(Retd) vs Union Of India (2017) 10 SCC 1
JUDGES: Justice J.S. Khehar, Justice S. K. Kaul, Justice D Y. Chandrachaud, Justice R. F. Nariman, Justice S.A. Bobde, Justice S.A. Nazeer, Justice R.K. Agrawal, Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice A. M. Sapre.
BACKGROUND: The Aadhaar Scheme was launched in the year 2010 by the then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. The Aadhaar is a 12-digit unique identification number that can be obtained by residents of India, based on their biometric and demographic data. The data is collected by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). In 2012, when three oil companies initiated a pilot project in Mysore to have LPG refills linked to the ID for which Aadhar was mandatory. A petition was filed challenging constitutionality of Aadhaar.
The Government of India, commenced a project called ‘Unique Identification for BPL Families’. For this purpose, a committee was set up which suggested forming of a Unique Identification database. Retired Justice K S Puttaswamy and Mr. Parvesh Sharma filed a PIL Writ Petition (Civil) No. 494 of 2012 in SC challenging the constitutionality of Aadhaar because it is violating the right to privacy. This had been established on reference from the 9-judge Bench to determine whether or not the right to privacy was guaranteed as a fundamental right under the constitution of India following past decisions from Supreme Court benches.
MAIN ISSUES RAISED:
- Whether the right to privacy is an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution?
- Whether or not the decision made by the Court that there are no such fundamental rights in M.P. Sharma & Ors. vs. Satish Chandra, DM, Delhi & Ors. and also, in Kharak Singh vs. The State of U.P, is that the correct in law?
The nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court unanimously recognized that the Constitution guaranteed the right to privacy as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21.
The Court revoked the M.P. Sharma & Ors. vs. Satish Chandra, DM, Delhi & Ors. and Kharak Singh vs. The State of U.P, as these did not expressly recognize the right to privacy.
In the Puttuswamy case, the right to privacy was reinforced by the concurring opinions of the judges in this case which recognized that this right includes autonomy over personal decisions, bodily integrity as well as the protection of personal information.
The concurring judgments included specific implications of this right, some of which are illustrated below:
Chandrachud (on behalf of himself, C.J. Kehar, J. Agrawal and J. Nazeer) stated “this opinion stated that privacy was not surrendered entirely when an individual is in the public sphere. Further, it found that the right to privacy included the negative right against State interference, as in the case of criminalization of homosexuality, as well as the positive right to be protected by the State. On this basis, the Judges held that there was a need to introduce a data protection regime in India.”
Chelameswar concurring opinion was “The right to privacy implied a right to refuse medical treatment, a right against forced feeding, the right to consume beef and the right to display symbols of religion in one’s personal appearance etc.”
Bobde observed “consent was essential for distribution of inherently personal data such as health records.”
Sapre said, “in addition to its existence as an independent right, the right to privacy included an individual’s rights to freedom of expression and movement and was essential to satisfy the constitutional aims of liberty and fraternity which ensured the dignity of the individual.”
Justice Nariman in his concurring opinion classified the facets of privacy into non-interference with the individual body, protection of personal information and autonomy over personal choices. Justice Kaul debated over the right to privacy with respect to protection of informational privacy and the right to preserve personal reputation. He said that the law must provide for data protection and regulate national security exceptions that allow for interception of data by the State.
However, the court even recognised that that the right to privacy was not an absolute right but has restriction to it which is provided by law, corelate with the legitimate aim of the State and was proportionate to the objective it sought to achieve.
The Aadhaar Scheme was launched with the main agenda of giving identity and empowerment to the marginalized section of the society. It provides a unique identification number to the citizens of India. The Aadhaar number is unique and therefore, it can’t be duplicated. The unique identification ensures that the benefits and subsidies of the government are availed by the section of society for which they are meant.
The main issue of “Right to Privacy” was raised in the case. The question of dignity of citizens, informational self-determination and consent formed the basis for the privacy rights claims. The right to privacy formed an important part of the case as a result of which it is also known as the right to privacy judgment. As the Constitutional bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court on 26th September 2018, gave the judgment in favor of respondents making right to privacy as a fundamental right of the citizen. The validity of Aadhaar was upheld by the Court after striking down various clauses and Sections of the Act which were contrary to the Constitution and violated the rights of the citizens. Justice A K Sikri wrote in his judgment declared the Aadhaar Act to be valid after striking down Section 33(2) and Section 57 of the Act. The petitioner raised various issues like the Right to Privacy of the citizens and the possibility of state surveillance as well as the possibility of breach of information which was collected by the Government for Aadhaar cards of the citizens. The questions of the petitioners have mitigated the claim of UIDAI that their system is one of the best in the world and secured enough to keep the information of the citizens safe. The Court held the Aadhaar Act to be Constitutionally valid as the Act was under reasonable restrictions of the Constitution. The majority of the honorable Bench also stated that the right of choice of the citizens to avail the Aadhaar card will not be protected by upholding the Aadhaar Act. The citizens will not be left with a choice as Aadhaar will be mandatory for availing the subsidies and benefits of the Government and if a citizen is excluded from availing the subsidies and benefits of the Government due to lack of Aadhaar or authentication problem it can result in the violation of the dignity of the citizen. The Bench the court even mentioned that linking of Aadhaar to PAN card is not important as there isn’t any constitutional rationale behind it. Upholding of Aadhaar can possibly result in the violation of the Right to Privacy even after striking down Section 33(2) and Section 57 of the Act. The court clearly stated to remove all the possibility for private entities to use the authentication mechanism or for asking Aadhaar details by the citizens in order to protect the Right to Privacy of the citizens. The step taken by the Court was to protect the Right to Privacy of the citizens and it clearly showed that the Right to Privacy is indeed a Fundamental Right.