Aadhaar scheme case: In the age of internet it’s tough to define privacy, says Supreme Court

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday said it is not easy to draw a line when it comes to privacy, giving the example that by using iPhone and iPad which uses fingerprints for the device to open and allowed the operators to store these kinds of actions and also posting personal data on social network sites, which is a challenge for the court.

The petitioner asked the court to examine the right to privacy keeping in mind that India rapidly has an increase in a number of internet users and mobile phone users and things are shared without any regulation.

A five-judge Constitution bench headed by the CJI, which was to deal with pleas challenging the validity of the Aadhaar scheme and the right to privacy attached to it, was faced with the two past verdicts, delivered in 1950 and 1962 by larger benches, holding that the privacy right was not a fundamental right.

The apex court said June 17 the nine-judge bench would deal with the limited issue of right to privacy and the correctness of the two judgements. The matter challenging the Aadhaar scheme would be then referred back to a smaller bench, it said.

Sajan Poovayya, senior advocate presented the dangers of the internet on breach of privacy of individuals and their profiling on habits, credit cards, and social network messages.

Every moment and motion are recorded as the phones have become ‘smart’ and are enabled with GPS, capable of recording all the movements and use the same data to find out places frequented by the individual.

“Would this not amount to the breach of privacy?” he asked the court.

He also pointed out that the US had 22 crore internet users and 32 crore mobile phones users, whereas India has 35 crore internet users and 118 crore mobile phone users.

“Digital reputation is as important as physical reputation,” he said.

“Unlimited volume of data is shared every minute and these must be getting analyzed. A possible way out in this vastness for the protection of privacy could be that the government must specify the purpose for collection of personal details and ensure that it was used for that specified purpose only,” Justice D Y Chandrachud said.

“But, look at the other possibility. One operating an iPhone or an iPad uses a fingerprint to open the device and thereby assigning his fingerprint to the private operator. A vast majority of persons using social networking sites are unconcerned about the purpose for which their personal data is taken, analysed and used commercially. How does one draw a line between sharing personal data voluntarily and breach of privacy,” he asked.

Justice J Chelameshwar said, “For the last 70 years, we (the SC) have been looking for the contours of freedom of speech, which is ever so expanding. So, it will be extremely difficult to take into consideration the immeasurable possibilities that the digital world holds for future … We can only consider what is happening right now.”
In the lack of a declaration from the Supreme Court to the effect that right to privacy is fundamental to the citizens, the government is will collect the biometric data of every citizen and exploit it in the time to come.

Justice Chandrachud said,”If the government collates crime data to profile a community as criminal, then it is surely the violation of the right to privacy. But, if the government collates data to profile areas with poverty prevalence to focus availability of food grains, could it be termed violation of the right to privacy?”