The term ‘Privacy’ has been defined by the Oxford Dictionary of Law, as the “right to be left alone. The right to a private life…” Hence, privacy would mean exclusively entitling a person to their private information. Such personal or private information might entail an individual’s recorded communication through electronic devices, their sexual autonomy and orientation, professional exercise or even their intellect. The notion of Privacy is, relatively old. Humans started to cover themselves up with leaves and then clothes, and that marked the advent of the concept of privacy. The State also unanimously recognizes it as a Fundamental right, under the Part III of the Constitution of India, under Article 21, “Protection of Life and Personal Liberty: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”
The Right to Privacy is guaranteed to every citizen irrespective of any discrimination on any political, economic, or social grounds. With the increasing development of technology, there is a constant need for safety protocol to ensure that our overindulgence with third parties through sources like banks, e-commerce, or workplaces don’t result in violation of our personal information but like any other right, the Right to Privacy too, cannot be considered absolute.
If we examine the grounds of guarantee this right provides us, we will see how there are instances where the State or other relatively major authority is not held accountable because of their right to privacy. This right becomes a hoard for unfavourable activities and loneliness, by prioritising itself over other rights that creates a situation of infringement of other rights.
REGULATIONS UNDER ARTICLE 19
The Constitution of India provides reasonable restrictions to the Right to Privacy. When a person rents a property on lease, the landlord has the right to enquire about basic information about his tenant but it is subject to the Right to Privacy of the tenant. For instance, the tenant here is a member of genocide inducing group, or a terrorist, and could be charged with hiding people, as victims of cruel mindsets, or anti-national commodities, such as explosives, capable of mass destruction, in his territory. In this situation, any accusation towards the tenant would be considered to be an infringement of the Right to Privacy of the individual. The landlord, on precarious grounds, could be sued for the same. This person could induce a national emergency, exhaust the state of relations that our State shares with other countries, could lead to genocide or homicide. And the State would be blamed for its questionable management of affairs, whereas the flaw in the system was that, the Right to Privacy was absolute.
The notion of the Right to Privacy under Article 21 creates a conflict with Article 19 (1) (a), the Freedom of expression. Freedom of expression guarantees an individual with the implied right to publish, and make information public, hence, the right to information gets implemented here, as a salient feature. The right to privacy forms a chain of aspects, where the freedom of expression and its implied right end, and the concept of privacy begins. As per Article 19 (2), the idea of Privacy should only be limited to matters of personal interest which are expected to disrupt “decency or morality”. Amplifying it to the title of ‘Fundamental Right’ would result in a deviation from the ideology and intention of the Constitution.
“Provided that the information, which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature, shall not be denied to any person.” Parliament undertook limits on restricting the Right to Information law exempting from the divulgence of any form of information that might result in an unjustified invasion of the privacy of a person, putting itself and the right to information of the citizens at par.
CONFLICT BETWEEN THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION AND THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY
With the advent of the RTI Act, numerous arbitrary and corrupt practices have been brought to light, including transfers and increments in professional positions that do not align with the interest of the general public, and in return, this has led to increased demands to strengthen the limits of privacy. This would undermine the area of operation of RTI to check unlawful activities and situate a reversion to the Freedom of Expression. With the expansion of the purview of privacy, the RTI faces a direct surrender of authority in the field of curbing arbitrary actions. In R Rajagopal case also, the Supreme Court stated that a privacy claim cannot be sustained “when something is a matter of public record. It is well known that many certificates for caste, education, income, and other matters are” deliberately made with ulterior motives, the Right to Privacy provides them with a safeguard against this false proclamation. In the case of Kharak Singh, the Court laid down: “Any right to privacy must encompass and protect the personal intimacies of the home…”
Privacy prompts a lack of accountability as people can do wrong things and no one will be able to question them. We often encounter situations where as individuals we refrain ourselves from getting involved in sensitive interactions between two people, namely husband and wife because they are entitled to their Right to Privacy. In cases of Domestic Violence, the spectators again, act as watchers, because they are not entitled to meddle with the Right to Privacy of others which makes them equally guilty of crimes they didn’t even commit. And, often results in an innocent person losing their right to be treated with respect, the right to individual dignity and sometimes, their right to life.
RIGHT TO PRESS WITH RIGHT TO PRIVACY
The Right to Privacy being given the status of a Fundamental Right amidst the recent developments in social networking sites and technological advancements creates a new conflict. Now, every person is a press through social network websites and personal blog points. The Right to Privacy often trespasses the Right to Press when the right to Expression of an individual comes in conflict with another person’s right to privacy. The right to press is a right derived from Article 19 (1) (a). Each case is dissimilar and every right is entitled to be protected. Thus, to decide in aggravated situations, the ideas of public interest and morality become the deciding force.
RIGHT TO PRIVACY VS. POLICE INVESTIGATION
The Right to Privacy comes in conflict with the police investigation and its mechanisms of it because it can create misbehaviour and lawlessness, people may commit crimes and it would result in mayhem, with no proper ways to prove them wrong. Because practices like brain mapping tests, Narco–analysis and polygraph tests lead to the unwarranted invasion of the Right to Privacy of the accused, which the Honourable Supreme Court has addressed by “branding these tests to be unconstitutional and inhumane”. But there are situations when police officials are left with no other option but to conduct tests that infringe on an individual’s Right to Privacy and personal information, to procure information that they possess against the State. In situations like these, the Right to Life becomes greater than the Right to Privacy.
In the case of Mr X v. Hospital Z, “it was laid down that if there is a conflict between two fundamental rights including the right to privacy then the right that furthers public morality or public interest would be enforced.”
PRIVACY AND INTELLECTUAL ALIENATION
Right to Privacy can create a sense of alienation. Too much privacy can fail to exchange ideas or learn from others, which will hinder intellectual growth, and result in individuals living in secluded spaces, with limited interaction. If privacy is facilitated over the person’s choices of outsourcing information and knowledge, his quench to know more and intellectually stimulate himself will wither away and there will be a time when he will assume that asking questions to satiate his curiosity would invade someone’s privacy. The person will be bounded by a cocoon that State unknowingly, had made for him. The lack of his growth will affect his peers, people who could have received information through him and will waste the potential source of knowledge, and the person who could have contributed to spreading awareness and wisdom.
Right to Privacy is very subjective and subject to restrictions that affect the public at large and manipulate accountability of people, organisations and even the State and/or its authorities to keep sensitive information away from civilians to safeguard the former’s rights and interests by keeping others in the dark. This right endangers mental stimulation as well as the equitable distribution of resources at large, pawning innocent people in the game of greed and lies. There is an urgent requirement for the State to work efficiently on enhancing the exceptions of this right to ensure a better framework, to check the people and institutions that evade the law.
Author(s) Name: Kasturi Bhowmick (University of Calcutta)