Right To Privacy: Judgement Highlights And Full Judgement


In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court today said that privacy is a constitutional right. Nine judges were unanimous in their finding. The verdict on the right to privacy today is a major setback for the government, which had argued that the constitution does not guarantee individual privacy as an inalienable fundamental right. The judges concluded today, “The right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution”.

Here are some highlights from the judgement and here is the full judgement (PDF)


Justice Dr D.Y  Chandrachud

Judgement given by:

Chief Justice Of India: Jagdish Singh Khehar

Justice R.K Agrawal

Justice Dr. D. Y Chandrachud

Justice S. Abdul Nazeer
Life is precious in itself. But life is worth living because of the freedoms which enable each individual to live life as it should be lived. The best decisions on how life should be lived are entrusted to the individual. They are continuously shaped by the social milieu in which individuals exist. The duty of the state is to safeguard the ability to take decisions – the autonomy of the individual – and not to dictate those decisions. ‘Life’ within the meaning of Article 21 is not confined to the integrity of the physical body. The right comprehends one’s being in its fullest sense. That which facilitates the fulfilment of life is as much within the protection of the guarantee of life.

To live is to live with dignity. The draftsmen of the Constitution defined their vision of the society in which constitutional values would be attained by emphasising, among other freedoms, liberty and dignity. So fundamental is dignity that it permeates the core of the rights guaranteed to the individual by Part III. Dignity is the core which unites the fundamental rights because the fundamental rights seek to achieve for each individual the dignity of existence. Privacy with its attendant values assures dignity to the individual and it is only when life can be enjoyed with dignity can liberty be of true substance. Privacy ensures the fulfilment of dignity and is a core value which the protection of life and liberty is intended to achieve.

The right to privacy is an element of human dignity. The sanctity of privacy lies in its functional relationship with dignity. Privacy ensures that a human being can
lead a life of dignity by securing the inner recesses of the human personality from unwanted intrusion. Privacy recognises the autonomy of the individual and the right of every person to make essential choices which affect the course of life. In doing so privacy recognises that living a life of dignity is essential for a human being to fulfil the

liberties and freedoms which are the cornerstone of the Constitution. To recognise the value of privacy as a constitutional entitlement and interest is not to fashion a new fundamental right by a process of amendment through judicial fiat. Neither are the judges nor is the process of judicial review entrusted with the constitutional responsibility to amend the Constitution. But judicial review certainly has the task before it of determining the nature and extent of the freedoms available to each person under the fabric of those constitutional guarantees which are protected. Courts have traditionally discharged that function and in the context of Article 21 itself, as we have already noted, a panoply of protections governing different facets of a dignified existence has been held to fall within the protection of Article 21.

The balance between data regulation and individual privacy raises complex issues requiring delicate balances to be drawn between the legitimate concerns of the State on one hand and individual interest in the protection of privacy on the other.

The sphere of privacy stretches at one end to those intimate matters to which a reasonable expectation of privacy may attach. It expresses a right to be left alone. A broader connotation which has emerged in academic literature of a comparatively recent origin is related to the protection of one’s identity. Data protection relates closely with the latter sphere. Data such as medical information would be a category to which a reasonable expectation of privacy attaches. There may be other data which falls outside the reasonable expectation paradigm. Apart from safeguarding privacy, data protection regimes seek to protect the autonomy of the individual. This is evident from the emphasis in the European data protection regime on the centrality of consent. Related to the issue of consent is the requirement of transparency which requires a disclosure by the data recipient of information pertaining to data transfer and use.

Another aspect which data protection regimes seek to safeguard is the principle of non-discrimination which ensures that the collection of data should be carried out in a manner which does not discriminate on the basis of racial or ethnic origin, political or religious beliefs, genetic or health status or sexual orientation.

Formulation of a regime for data protection is a complex exercise which needs to be undertaken by the State after a careful balancing of the requirements of privacy coupled with other values which the protection of data sub-serves together with the legitimate concerns of the State. One of the chief concerns which the formulation of a data protection regime has to take into account is that while the web is a source of lawful activity-both personal and commercial, concerns of national security intervene since the seamless structure of the web can be exploited by terrorists to wreak havoc and destruction on civilised societies. Cyber attacks can threaten financial systems.

While it intervenes to protect legitimate state interests, the state must nevertheless put into place a robust regime that ensures the fulfilment of a three-fold requirement. These three requirements apply to all restraints on privacy (not just informational privacy). They emanate from the procedural and content-based mandate of Article 21. The first requirement that there must be a law in existence to justify an encroachment on privacy is an express requirement of Article 21. For, no person can be deprived of his life or personal liberty except in accordance with the procedure established by law. The existence of law is an essential requirement. Second, the requirement of a need, in terms of a legitimate state aim, ensures that the nature and content of the law which imposes the restriction falls within the zone of reasonableness mandated by Article 14, which is a guarantee against arbitrary state action. The pursuit of a legitimate state aim ensures that the law does not suffer from manifest arbitrariness. Legitimacy, as a postulate, involves a value judgment. Judicial review does not re-appreciate or second guess the value judgment of the legislature but is for deciding whether the aim which is sought to be pursued suffers from palpable or manifest arbitrariness. The third requirement ensures that the means which are adopted by the legislature are proportional to the object and needs sought to be fulfilled by the law.

Proportionality is an essential facet of the guarantee against arbitrary state action because it ensures that the nature and quality of the encroachment on the right is not disproportionate to the purpose of the law. Hence, the three-fold requirement for a valid law arises out of the mutual inter-dependence between the fundamental guarantees against arbitrariness on the one hand and the protection of life and personal liberty, on the other. The right to privacy, which is an intrinsic part of the right to life and liberty, and the freedoms embodied in Part III is subject to the same restraints which apply to those freedoms.

Apart from national security, the state may have justifiable reasons for the collection and storage of data. In a social welfare state, the government embarks upon programmes which provide benefits to impoverished and marginalised sections of society. There is a vital state interest in ensuring that scarce public resources are not dissipated by the diversion of resources to persons who do not qualify as recipients. Allocation of resources for human development is coupled with a legitimate concern that the utilisation of resources should not be siphoned away for extraneous purposes. Data mining with the object of ensuring that resources are properly deployed to legitimate beneficiaries is a valid ground for the state to insist on the collection of authentic data. But, the data which the state has collected has to be utilised for legitimate purposes of the state and ought not to be utilised unauthorizedly for extraneous purposes. This will ensure that the legitimate concerns of the state are duly safeguarded while, at the same time, protecting privacy concerns. Prevention and investigation of crime and protection of the revenue are among the legitimate aims of the state. Digital platforms are a vital tool of ensuring good governance in a social welfare state. Information technology – legitimately deployed is a powerful enabler in the spread of innovation and knowledge.

Privacy has been held to be an intrinsic element of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a constitutional value which is embodied in the fundamental freedoms embedded in Part III of the Constitution. Like the right to life and liberty, privacy is not absolute. The limitations which operate on the right to life and personal liberty would operate on the right to privacy. Any curtailment or deprivation of that right would have to take place under a regime of law. The procedure established by law must be fair, just and reasonable. The law which provides for the curtailment of the right must also be subject to constitutional safeguards.

Our Conclusions

The judgment in M P Sharma holds essentially that in the absence of a provision similar to the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, the right to privacy cannot be read into the provisions of Article 20 (3) of the Indian Constitution. The judgment does not specifically adjudicate on whether a right to privacy would arise from any of the other provisions of the rights guaranteed by Part III including Article 21 and Article 19. The observation that privacy is not a right guaranteed by the Indian Constitution is not reflective of the correct position. M P Sharma is overruled to the extent to which it indicates to the contrary.

Kharak Singh has correctly held that the content of the expression ‘life’ under Article 21 means not merely the right to a person’s “animal existence” and that the expression ‘personal liberty’ is a guarantee against invasion into the sanctity of a person’s home or an intrusion into personal security. Kharak Singh also correctly laid down that the dignity of the individual must lend content to the meaning of ‘personal liberty’. The first part of the decision in Kharak Singh which invalidated domiciliary visits at night on the ground that they violated ordered liberty is an implicit recognition of the right to privacy. The second part of the decision, however, which holds that the right to privacy is not a guaranteed right under our Constitution, is not reflective of the correct position. Similarly, Kharak Singh’s reliance upon the decision of the majority in Gopalan is not reflective of the correct position in view of the decisions in Cooper and in Maneka. Kharak Singh to the extent that it holds that the right to privacy is not protected under the Indian Constitution is overruled.

3 (A) Life and personal liberty are inalienable rights. These are rights which are inseparable from a dignified human existence. The dignity of the individual, equality between human beings and the quest for liberty are the foundational pillars of the Indian Constitution;

(B) Life and personal liberty are not creations of the Constitution. These rights are recognised by the Constitution as inhering in each individual as an intrinsic and inseparable part of the human element which dwells within;

(C) Privacy is a constitutionally protected right which emerges primarily from the guarantee of life and personal liberty in Article 21 of the Constitution. Elements of privacy also arise in varying contexts from the other facets of freedom and dignity recognised and guaranteed by the fundamental rights contained in Part III;

(D) Judicial recognition of the existence of a constitutional right of privacy is not an exercise in the nature of amending the Constitution nor is the Court embarking on a constitutional function of that nature which is entrusted to Parliament;

(E) Privacy is the constitutional core of human dignity. Privacy has both a normative and descriptive function. At a normative level privacy sub-serves those eternal values upon which the guarantees of life, liberty and freedom are founded. At a descriptive level, privacy postulates a bundle of entitlements and interests which lie at the foundation of ordered liberty;

(F) Privacy includes at its core the preservation of personal intimacies, the sanctity of family life, marriage, procreation, the home and sexual orientation. Privacy also connotes a right to be left alone. Privacy safeguards individual autonomy and recognises the ability of the individual to control vital aspects of his or her life. Personal choices governing a way of life are intrinsic to privacy. Privacy protects heterogeneity and recognises the plurality and diversity of our culture.
While the legitimate expectation of privacy may vary from the intimate zone to the private zone and from the private to the public arenas, it is important to underscore that privacy is not lost or surrendered merely because the individual is in a public place. Privacy attaches to the person since it is an essential facet of the dignity of the human being;

(G) This Court has not embarked upon an exhaustive enumeration or a catalogue of entitlements or interests comprised in the right to privacy. The Constitution must evolve with the felt necessities of time to meet the challenges thrown up in a democratic order governed by the rule of law. The meaning of the Constitution cannot be frozen on the perspectives present when it was adopted. Technological change has given rise to concerns which were not present seven decades ago and the rapid growth of technology may render obsolescent many notions of the present. Hence the interpretation of the Constitution must be resilient and flexible to allow future generations to adapt its content bearing in mind its basic or essential features;

(H) Like other rights which form part of the fundamental freedoms protected by Part III, including the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21, privacy is not an absolute right. A law which encroaches upon privacy will have to withstand the touchstone of permissible restrictions on fundamental rights. In the context of Article 21 an invasion of privacy must be justified on the basis of a law which stipulates a procedure which is fair, just and reasonable. The law must also be valid with reference to the encroachment on life and personal liberty under Article 21. An invasion of life or personal liberty must meet the three-fold requirement of

(i) legality, which postulates the existence of law; (ii) need, defined in terms of a legitimate state aim; and (iii) proportionality which ensures a rational nexus between the objects and the means adopted to achieve them; and

(I) Privacy has both positive and negative content. The negative content restrains the state from committing an intrusion upon the life and personal liberty of a citizen. Its positive content imposes an obligation on the state to take all necessary measures to protect the privacy of the individual.

Decisions rendered by this Court subsequent to Kharak Singh, upholding the right to privacy would be read subject to the above principles.

Informational privacy is a facet of the right to privacy. The dangers to privacy in an age of information can originate not only from the state but from non-state actors as well. We commend to the Union Government the need to examine and put into place a robust regime for data protection. The creation of such a regime requires a careful and sensitive balance between individual interests and legitimate concerns of the state. The legitimate aims of the state would include for instance protecting national security, preventing and investigating crime, encouraging innovation and the spread of knowledge, and preventing the dissipation of social welfare benefits. These are matters of policy to be considered by the Union government while designing a carefully structured regime for the protection of the data. Since the Union government has informed the Court that it has constituted a Committee chaired by Hon’ble Shri Justice B N Srikrishna, former Judge of this Court, for that purpose, the matter shall be dealt with appropriately by the Union government having due regard to what has been set out in this judgment.

6 The reference is answered in the above terms.


Judgement given by: Justice Chelameswar
I do not think that anybody in this country would like to have the officers of the State intruding into their homes or private property at will or soldiers quartered in their houses without their consent. I do not think that anybody would like to be told by the State as to what they should eat or how they should dress or whom they should be associated with either in their personal, social or political life. Freedom of social and political association is guaranteed to citizens under Article 19(1)(c). Personal association is still a doubtful area.61 The decision making process regarding the freedom of association, freedoms of travel and residence are purely private and fall within the realm of the right of privacy. It is one of the most intimate decisions.

All liberal democracies believe that the State should not have unqualified authority to intrude into certain aspects of human life and that the authority should be limited by parameters constitutionally fixed. Fundamental rights are the only constitutional firewall to prevent State’s interference with those core freedoms constituting liberty of a human being. The right to privacy is certainly one of the core freedoms which is to be defended. It is part of liberty within the meaning of that expression in Article 21.

It goes without saying that no legal right can be absolute. Every right has limitations. This aspect of the matter is conceded at the bar. Therefore, even a fundamental right to privacy has limitations. The limitations are to be identified on case to case basis depending upon the nature of the privacy interest claimed.

There are different standards of review to test infractions of fundamental rights. While the concept of reasonableness overarches Part III, it operates differently across Articles (even if only slightly differently across some of them). Having emphatically interpreted the Constitution’s liberty guarantee to contain a fundamental right of privacy, it is necessary for me to outline the manner in which such a right to privacy can be limited. I only do this to indicate the
direction of the debate as the nature of limitation is not at issue here.


Judgement given by: Justice S.S Bobde

Every individual is entitled to perform his actions in private. In other words, she is entitled to be in a state of repose and to work without being disturbed, or otherwise observed or spied upon. The entitlement to such a condition is not confined only to intimate spaces such as the bedroom or the washroom but goes with a person wherever he is, even in a public place. Privacy has a deep affinity with seclusion (of our physical persons and things) as well as such ideas as repose, solitude, confidentiality and secrecy (in our communications), and intimacy. But this is not to suggest that solitude is always essential to privacy. It is in this sense of an individual’s liberty to do things privately that a group of individuals, however large, is entitled to seclude itself from others and be private. In fact, a conglomeration of individuals in a space to which the rights of admission are reserved – as in a hotel or a cinema hall –must be regarded as private. Nor is the right to privacy lost when a person moves about in public. The law requires a specific authorization for search of a person even where there is suspicion26.

Privacy must also mean the effective guarantee of a zone of internal freedom in which to think. The disconcerting effect of having another peer over one’s shoulder while reading or writing explains why individuals would choose to retain their privacy even in public. It is important to be able to keep one’s work without publishing it in a condition which may be described as private. The vigour and vitality of the various expressive freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution depends on the existence of a corresponding guarantee of cognitive freedom.

It is not possible to truncate or isolate the basic freedom to do an activity in seclusion from the freedom to do the activity itself. The right to claim a basic condition like privacy in which guaranteed fundamental rights can be exercised must itself be regarded as a fundamental right. Privacy, thus, constitutes the basic, irreducible condition necessary for the exercise of ‘personal liberty’ and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. It is the inarticulate major premise in Part III of the Constitution.

The first and natural home for a right of privacy is in Article 21 at the very heart of ‘personal liberty’ and life itself. Liberty and privacy are integrally connected in a way that privacy is often the basic condition necessary for exercise of the right of personal liberty. There are innumerable activities which are virtually incapable of being performed at all and in many cases with dignity unless an individual is left alone or is otherwise empowered to ensure his or her privacy. Birth and death are events when privacy is required for ensuring dignity amongst all civilized people. Privacy is thus one of those rights “instrumentally required if one is to enjoy”33 rights specified and enumerated in the constitutional text. both by the Preamble and by this Court in its exposition of Article 21, among other rights – can be assured to the individual without privacy. Both dignity and privacy are intimately intertwined and are natural conditions for the birth and death of individuals, and for many significant events in life between these events. Necessarily, then, the right of privacy is an integral part of both ‘life’ and ‘personal liberty’ under Article 21, and is intended to enable the rights bearer to develop her potential to the fullest extent made possible only
in consonance with the constitutional values expressed in the Preamble as well as across Part III.

Therefore, privacy is the necessary condition precedent to the enjoyment of any of the guarantees in Part III. As a result, when it is claimed by rights bearers before constitutional courts, a right to privacy may be situated not only in Article 21, but also simultaneously in any of the other guarantees in Part III. In the current state of things, Articles 19(1), 20(3), 25, 28 and 29 are all rights helped up and made meaningful by the exercise of privacy. This is not an exhaustive list.
Future developments in technology and social ordering may well reveal that there are yet more constitutional sites in which a privacy right inheres that are not at present evident to us.


In view of the foregoing, I answer the reference before us in the following terms:

a. The ineluctable conclusion must be that an inalienable constitutional right to privacy inheres in Part III of the Constitution. M.P. Sharma and the majority opinion in Kharak Singh must stand overruled to the extent that they indicate to the contrary.

b. The right to privacy is inextricably bound up with all exercises of human liberty – both as it is specifically enumerated across Part III, and as it is guaranteed in the residue under Article 21. It is distributed across the various articles in Part III and, mutatis mutandis, takes the form of whichever of their enjoyment its violation curtails.

c. Any interference with privacy by an entity covered by Article 12’s description of the ‘state’ must satisfy the tests applicable to whichever one or more of the Part III freedoms the interference affects.


Judgement given by: Justice R.F. Nariman
In the Indian context, a fundamental right to privacy would cover at least the following three aspects:three aspects:

· Privacy that involves the person i.e. when there is some invasion by the State of a person’s rights relatable to his physical body, such as the right to move freely;

· Informational privacy which does not deal with a person’s body but deals with a person’s mind, and therefore recognizes that an individual may have control over the dissemination of material that is personal to him. Unauthorised use of such information may, therefore lead to infringement of this right; and

· The privacy of choice, which protects an individual’s autonomy over fundamental personal choices. For instance, we can ground physical privacy or privacy relating to the body in Articles 19(1)(d) and (e) read with Article 21; ground personal information privacy under Article 21; and the
privacy of choice in Articles 19(1)(a) to (c), 20(3), 21 and 25. The argument based on ‘privacy’ being a vague and nebulous concept need not, therefore, detain us.

The dignity of the individual encompasses the right of the individual to develop to the full extent of his potential. And this development can only be if an individual has autonomy over fundamental personal choices and control over dissemination of personal information which may be infringed through an unauthorized use of such information. It is clear that Article 21, more than any of the other Articles in the fundamental rights chapter, reflects each of these constitutional values in full, and is to be read in consonance with these values and with the international covenants that we have referred to. In the ultimate analysis, the fundamental right of privacy, which has so many developing facets, can only be developed on a case to case basis. Depending upon the particular facet that is relied upon, either Article 21 by itself or in conjunction with other fundamental rights would get attracted.

But this is not to say that such a right is absolute. This right is subject to reasonable regulations made by the State to protect legitimate State interests or public interest. However, when it comes to restrictions on this right, the drill of various Articles to which the right relates must be scrupulously followed. For example, if the restraint on privacy is over fundamental personal choices that an individual is to make, State action can be restrained under Article 21 read with Article 14 if it is arbitrary and unreasonable; and under Article 21 read with Article 19(1) (a) only if it relates to the subjects mentioned in Article 19(2) and the tests laid down by this Court for such legislation or subordinate legislation to pass muster under the said Article. Each of the tests evolved by this Court, qua legislation or executive action, under Article 21 read with Article 14; or Article 21 read with Article 19(1)(a) in the aforesaid examples must be met in order that State action pass muster. In the ultimate analysis, the balancing act that is to be carried out between individual, societal and State interests must be left to the training and expertise of the judicial mind.


This reference is answered by stating that the inalienable fundamental right to privacy resides in Article 21 and other fundamental freedoms contained in Part III of the Constitution of India. M.P. Sharma (supra) and the majority in Kharak Singh (supra), to the extent that they indicate to the contrary, stand overruled. The later judgments of this Court recognizing privacy as a fundamental right do not need to be revisited. These cases are, therefore, sent back for adjudication on merits to the original Bench of 3 honourable Judges of this Court in light of the judgment just delivered by us.

Judgement given by: Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre

In my view, unity and integrity of the Nation cannot survive unless the dignity of every individual citizen is guaranteed. It is inconceivable to think of unity and integration without the assurance to an individual to preserve his dignity. In other words, regard and respect by every individual for the dignity of the other one brings the unity and integrity of the Nation.

In my considered opinion, “right to privacy of any individual” is essentially a natural right, which inheres in every human being by birth. Such right remains with the human being till he/she breathes last.. It is indeed inseparable and inalienable from human being. In other words, it is born with the human being and extinguish with human being.

One cannot conceive an individual enjoying meaningful life with dignity without such right. Indeed, it is one of those cherished rights, which every civilized society governed by rule of law always recognizes in every human being and is under obligation to recognize such rights in order to maintain and preserve the dignity of an individual regardless of gender, race, religion, caste and creed. It is, of course, subject to imposing certain reasonable restrictions keeping in view the social, moral and compelling public interest, which the State is entitled to impose by law.

“Right to privacy” is not defined in law except in the dictionaries. The Courts, however, by process of judicial interpretation, has assigned meaning to this right in the context of specific issues involved on caseto- case basis.

No. 2 is that “right to privacy” is a part of fundamental right of a citizen guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution. However, it is not an absolute right but is subject to certain reasonable restrictions, which the State is entitled to impose on the basis of social, moral and compelling public interest in accordance with law.

Similarly, I also hold that the “right to privacy” has multiple facets, and, therefore, the same has to go through a process of case-to-case development as and when any citizen raises his grievance complaining of infringement of his alleged right in accordance with law.


Judgement given by: Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul

It is not India alone, but the world that recognises the right of privacy as a basic human right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which India is a signatory, recognises privacy as an international human right.

  1. The importance of this right to privacy cannot be diluted and the significance of this is that the legal conundrum was debated and is to be settled in the present reference by a nine-Judges Constitution Bench.

The right to privacy may have different aspects starting from ‘the right to be let alone’ in the famous article by Samuel Warren and Louis D. Brandeis . One such aspect is an individual’s right to control dissemination of his personal information. There is nothing wrong in individuals limiting access and their ability to shield from unwanted access. This aspect of the right to privacy has assumed particular significance in this information age and in view of technological improvements. A person-hood would be a protection of one’s personality, individuality and dignity.3 However, no right is unbridled and so is it with privacy. We live in a society/ community. Hence, restrictions arise from the interests of the community, state and from those of others. Thus, it would be subject to certain restrictions which I will revert to later.


We are in an information age. With the growth and development of technology, more information is now easily available. The information explosion has manifold advantages but also some disadvantages. The access to information, which an individual may not want to give, needs the protection of privacy. The right to privacy is claimed qua the State and non-State actors. Recognition and enforcement of claims qua non-state actors may require legislative intervention by the State.

A. Privacy Concerns Against The State

The growth and development of technology has created new instruments for the possible invasion of privacy by the State, including through surveillance, profiling and data collection and processing. Surveillance is not new, but technology has permitted surveillance in ways that are unimaginable. Edward Snowden shocked the world with his disclosures about global surveillance. States are utilizing technology in the most imaginative ways particularly in view of increasing global terrorist attacks and heightened public safety concerns. One such technique being adopted by States is ‘profiling’. The European Union Regulation of 20164 on data privacy defines ‘Profiling’ as any form of automated processing of personal data consisting of the use of personal data to evaluate certain personal aspects relating to a natural person, in particular to analyse or predict aspects concerning that natural person’s performance at work, economic situation, health, personal preferences, interests, reliability, behaviour, location or movements5. Such profiling can result in discrimination based on religion, ethnicity and caste. However, ‘profiling’ can also be used to further public interest and for the benefit of national security.

The security environment, not only in our country, but throughout the world makes the safety of persons and the State a matter to be balanced against this right to privacy.

B. Privacy Concerns Against Non-State Actors

The capacity of non-State actors to invade the home and privacy has also been enhanced. Technological development has facilitated journalism that is more intrusive than ever before.

Further, in this digital age, individuals are constantly generating valuable data which can be used by non-State actors to track their moves, choices and preferences. Data is generated not just by active sharing of information, but also passively, with every click on the ‘world wide web’. We are stated to be creating an equal amount of information every other day, as humanity created from the beginning of recorded history to the year 2003 – enabled by the ‘world wide web’.

Recently, it was pointed out that “‘Uber’, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. ‘Facebook’, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. ‘Alibaba’, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And ‘Airbnb’, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.”7 ‘Uber’ knows our whereabouts and the places we frequent. ‘Facebook’ at the least, knows who we are friends with. ‘Alibaba’ knows our shopping habits. ‘Airbnb’ knows where we are travelling to. Social networks providers, search engines, e-mail service providers, messaging applications are all further examples of non-state actors that have extensive knowledge of our movements, financial transactions, conversations – both personal and professional, health, mental state, interest, travel locations, fares and shopping habits. As we move towards becoming a digital economy and increase our reliance on internet based services, we are creating deeper and deeper digital footprints – passively and actively.

These digital footprints and extensive data can be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions and hence, is valuable information. This is the age of ‘big data’. The advancement in technology has created not just new forms of data, but also new methods of analysing the data and has led to the discovery of new uses for data. The algorithms are more effective and the computational power has magnified exponentially. A large number of people would like to keep such search history private, but it rarely remains private, and is collected, sold and analysed for purposes such as targeted advertising. Of course, ‘big data’ can also be used to further public interest. There may be cases where collection and processing of big data is legitimate and proportionate, despite being invasive of privacy otherwise.

Knowledge about a person gives a power over that person. The personal data collected is capable of effecting representations, influencing decision making processes and shaping behaviour. It can be used as a tool to exercise control over us like the ‘big brother’ State exercised. This can have a stultifying effect on the expression of dissent and difference of opinion, which no democracy can afford.

Thus, there is an unprecedented need for regulation regarding the extent to which such information can be stored, processed and used by non-state actors. There is also a need for protection of such information from the State. Our Government was successful in compelling Blackberry to give to it the ability to intercept data sent over Blackberry devices. While such interception may be desirable and permissible in order to ensure national security, it cannot be unregulated.

The concept of ‘invasion of privacy’ is not the early conventional thought process of ‘poking ones nose in another person’s affairs’. It is not so simplistic. In today’s world, privacy is a limit on the government’s power as well as the power of private sector entities.

George Orwell created a fictional State in ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four.’ Today, it can be a reality. The technological development today can enable not only the state, but also big corporations and private entities to be the ‘big brother’.

Aside from the economic justifications for such a right, it is also justified as protecting individual autonomy and personal dignity. The right protects an individual’s free, personal conception of the ‘self.’ The right of publicity implicates a person’s interest in autonomous self- definition, which prevents others from interfering with the meanings and values that the public associates with her.21


The right of an individual to exercise control over his personal data and to be able to control his/her own life would also encompass his right to control his existence on the internet. Needless to say that this would not be an absolute right.The existence of such a right does not imply that a criminal can obliterate his past, but that there are variant degrees of mistakes, small and big, and it cannot be said that a person should be profiled to the nth extent for all and sundry to know.

A high school teacher was fired after posting on her Facebook page that she was “so not looking forward to another [school] year” since that the school district’s residents were “arrogant and snobby”. A flight attended was fired for posting suggestive photos of herself in the company’s uniform.25 In the pre-digital era, such incidents would have never occurred. People could then make mistakes and embarrass themselves, with the comfort that the information will be typically
forgotten over time.

The impact of the digital age results in information on the internet being permanent. Humans forget, but the internet does not forget and does not let humans forget. Any endeavour to remove information from the internet does not result in its absolute obliteration. The foot prints remain. It is thus, said that in the digital world preservation is the norm and forgetting a struggle.

The technology results almost in a sort of a permanent storage in some way or the other making it difficult to begin life again giving up past mistakes. People are not static, they change and grow through their lives. They evolve. They make mistakes. But they are entitled to re-invent themselves and reform and correct their mistakes. It is privacy which nurtures this ability and removes the shackles of unadvisable things which may have been done in the past.

Children around the world create perpetual digital footprints on social network websites on a 24/7 basis as they learn their ‘ABCs’: Apple, Bluetooth, and Chat followed by Download, E-Mail, Facebook, Google, Hotmail, and Instagram. They should not be subjected to the consequences of their childish mistakes and naivety, their entire life. Privacy of children will require special protection not just in the context of the virtual world, but also the real world.

People change and an individual should be able to determine the path of his life and not be stuck only on a path of which he/she treaded initially. An individual should have the capacity to change his/her beliefs and evolve as a person. Individuals should not live in fear that the views they expressed will forever be associated with them and thus refrain from expressing themselves.

Whereas this right to control dissemination of personal information in the physical and virtual space should not amount to a right of total eraser of history, this right, as a part of the larger right of privacy, has to be balanced against other fundamental rights like the freedom of expression, or freedom of media, fundamental to a democratic society.

Data Regulation

I agree with Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, J., that formulation of data protection is a complex exercise which needs to be undertaken by the State after a careful balancing of privacy concerns and legitimate State interests, including public benefit arising from scientific and historical research based on data collected and processed. The European Union Regulation of 201629 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April 2016 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data may provide useful guidance in this regard. The State must ensure that information is not used without the consent of users and that it is used for the purpose and to the extent it was disclosed. Thus, for e.g. , if the posting on social media websites is meant only for a certain audience, which is possible as per tools available, then it cannot be said that all and sundry in public have a right to somehow access that information and make use of it.

The right to privacy as already observed is not absolute. The right to privacy as falling in part III of the Constitution may, depending on its variable facts, vest in one part or the other, and would thus be subject to the restrictions of exercise of that particular fundamental right. National security would thus be an obvious restriction, so would the provisos to different fundamental rights, dependent on where the right to privacy would arise. The Public interest element would be another aspect.

The rightof privacy is a fundamental right. It is a right which protects the inner sphere of the individual from interference from both State, and non-State actors and allows the individuals to make autonomous life choices.

It was rightly expressed on behalf of the petitioners that the technology has made it possible to enter a citizen’s house without knocking at his/her door and this is equally possible both by the State and non-State actors. It is an individual’s choice as to who enters his house, how he lives and in what relationship. The privacy of the home must protect the family, marriage, procreation and sexual orientation which are all important aspects of dignity.

  1. If the individual permits someone to enter the house it does not mean that others can enter the house. The only check and balance is that it should not harm the other individual or affect his or her rights. This applies both to the physical form and to technology. In an era where there are wide, varied, social and cultural norms and more so in a country like ours which prides itself on its diversity, privacy is one of the most important rights to be protected both against State and non-State actors and be recognized as a fundamental right. How it thereafter works out in its inter-play with other fundamental rights and when such restrictions would become necessary would depend on the factual matrix of each case. That it may give rise to more litigation can hardly be the reason not to recognize this important, natural, primordial right as a fundamental right.

The judgment on behalf of the Hon’ble Chief Justice Shri Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar, Shri Justice R K Agrawal, Shri Justice S Abdul Nazeer and Dr Justice D Y Chandrachud was delivered by Dr Justice D Y Chandrachud. Shri Justice J Chelameswar, Shri Justice S A Bobde, Shri Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre, Shri Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman and Shri Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul delivered separate judgments.
(i) The decision in M P Sharma which holds that the right to privacy is not protected by the Constitution stands over-ruled;

(ii) The decision in Kharak Singh to the extent that it holds that the right to privacy is not protected by the Constitution stands over-ruled;

(iii) The right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed
by Part III of the Constitution.

(iv) Decisions subsequent to Kharak Singh which have enunciated the position in (iii) above lay down the correct position in law.

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