Home / Politics / Policy /  Supreme Court reserves verdict on right to privacy

New Delhi: After hearings spread over a fortnight, a nine-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its verdict on whether the right to privacy should be deemed a fundamental right.

The bench, headed by chief justice J.S. Khehar, did not set a date for delivering its verdict.

The nine-judge constitution bench was set up on 18 July and heard arguments over three days each week by lawyers for the central government, states and petitioners who contended that the collection of personal details under the Aadhaar infringed on the right to privacy.

The limited question—is the right to privacy a fundamental right—had cropped up in the context of legal challenges to the Aadhaar number, which has now become the bedrock of government welfare programmes, the tax administration network and online financial transactions.

Arguments were opened by lawyer Gopal Subramanium, arguing in favour of a privacy law, as he urged the Supreme Court to view privacy not as a shade of a fundamental right but as one that was “inalienable and quintessential to the construction of the Constitution".

Subramanium argued that the concept of privacy was embedded in the right to liberty/dignity.

Privacy was sought to be defined by Shyam Divan, counsel for one of the petitioners, who said that it would include bodily integrity, personal autonomy, protection from state surveillance and freedom of dissent/movement/thought.

On 26 July, as the Centre began its arguments, it recalibrated its stand on privacy, and conceded for the first time that it was a fundamental right under the Constitution—with the caveat that the right could not be extended to “every aspect" of privacy.

Attorney general K.K. Venugopal submitted that privacy was at best a “sub-species of liberty and every aspect could not qualify as being fundamental in nature".

Following this, four states—Karnataka, Punjab, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh—and the union territory of Puducherry backed the constitutionality of the right to privacy. The states of Haryana and Kerala also joined the proceedings.

Amid the privacy debate, the ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY) appointed an expert group headed by former Supreme Court judge B.N. Srikrishna to put in place a data protection legislation.

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), represented by Tushar Mehta, additional solicitor general, took the stand that privacy was a valuable common right that was duly protected under statutes and did not need to be elevated to the status of a fundamental right.

Once the privacy question is settled by the nine-judge constitution bench, the remaining issues related to Aadhaar will be heard by a smaller bench of the Supreme Court.

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