Justice KS Puttaswamy v. UOI [2017 10 SCC 1]

Right to Privacy was declared to be an inalienable and separate fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Bench – Sanjay Kishan Kaul, J. Chelameswar, S. A. Nazeer, D.Y. Chandrachud, J. S. Khehar, S. A. Bobde, R. K. Agrawal, R. K. Agrawal and A.M. Sapre.

Facts – The case was started after Justice K.S. Puttaswamy, a retired Karnataka High Court judge, submitted a lawsuit in regard to the Aadhaar Project, which was handled by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). The Aadhaar project was connected to a range of welfare programmes in order to expedite service delivery and eliminate fake users. Justice Puttaswamy filed a lawsuit in which he questioned the constitutional legitimacy of the Aadhaar card scheme. Other challenges contesting various features of Aadhaar were submitted to the Supreme Court in due course. The State criteria for the acquisition and compilation of demographic biometrics were challenged in 2015 before a three-judge bench of the Court on the basis of a breach of constitutional rights to privacy. Based on the verdicts in M.P. Sharma and Kharak Singh, the AGI contended that the basic right to privacy does not exist.

The three judges on the bench referred to various Supreme Court cases in which the right to privacy was declared a constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right. However, these following judgements, which upheld the validity of a constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy, were made by benches with fewer members than those in M.P. Sharma and Kharak Singh. Therefore, a nine judge bench was created to look into this issue.

Issues – Whether the right to privacy is a fundamental right enshrined under Constitution’s Part III or not?

Judgment – The court ruled in this case that Right to Privacy is an inalienable and separate fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. It was held by the Apex Court that Article 21 is not narrow as any other constitutional right but has a wider interpretation and hence covers the body as well as the mind, including choices, decisions and freedom of an individual. Part III of the Constitution was found to provide an overarching, enforceable, and multidimensional right to privacy.

The judgements of MP Sharma and Kharak Singh were overruled in this case. Regarding the judgement of MP Sharma the court ruled that it was invalid about the argument that the Constitution does not include a limit to search and seizure provisions similar to that of 4th Amendment of US Constitution. It was ruled by the court that 4th Amendment does not cover all aspects of privacy and the absence of equal safeguard in the Indian Constitution cannot be equated to absence of an inherent right to privacy. The Court went on to adjudge that the majority judgement in Kharak Singh was internally inconsistent, because there was no legal justification for striking down domiciliary inspections and police monitoring on any grounds other than privacy – a right they mentioned in theory yet ruled to be unconstitutional.

The Court also looked at the positive case to see if the right to privacy was protected under Part III and its guarantees of life, liberty, and freedom. Privacy was determined to be “not an elitist construct” by the Bench. It dismissed the Attorney General’s contention that the right to privacy must be sacrificed in order for the government to offer social benefits.

While noting that the right to privacy is not absolute, the decision also gives an outline of the judicial review threshold that must be followed in circumstances of government invasion into a person’s privacy. It was adjudged that the right to privacy can be limited if the incursion satisfies three criteria: legality, which presumes the presence of law; need, which is measured in contexts of a legitimate state goal; and proportionality, which guarantees a rational relationship among the aims and the means used to accomplish them.

Lastly, the court went on to explore the bad and good aspects of the right to privacy, stating that the government is not only prohibited from infringing on the right but also required to undertake reasonable steps to safeguard an individual’s privacy.

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