India's Supreme Court Upholds Privacy As "Fundamental Right"

Unanimous ruling protects bodily autonomy, could help decriminalize homosexuality



The Supreme Court of India declared privacy a "guaranteed fundamental right" of citizens Thursday.

The landmark ruling, a unanimous 9-0 decision, overturns two previous Supreme Court opinions undermining Indian privacy rights, while its comprehensive language carries far-reaching implications for areas such as LGBT rights.

The decision came in response to a lawsuit challenged the implementation of the Indian government's massive biometric data collection scheme, known as Aadhaar, Hindi for "foundation." Initially voluntary, the program was designed to help the government save money and combat corruption by reducing welfare and tax fraud.

Over the past eight years, the program collected fingerprints and iris scans from more than a billion citizens, storing them in a high security data center, and issuing those participating citizens a unique 12 digit "UID" number. In recent years, however, Aadhaar faced criticism for becoming increasingly mandatory for citizens to gain access to welfare benefits and routine transactions.

Indian citizens now need UIDs to secure certain loans, buy and sell property, file income tax returns, make purchases of $780 dollars or more, apply for railway jobs, or even receive welfare benefits like free midday meals and tuberculosis patient allowances.

The program's security has come under fire after a provincial government accidentally leaked over 20,000 Aadhaar numbers. The leak came on the heels of several data breaches and accusations of individuals illegally storing biometric information.

The ruling was high-stakes for the personal liberties of Indian citizens under their constitution. Citing previous precedents, the government argued against citizens' right to privacy and bodily autonomy, saying it was the state's prerogative to collect biometric data. Plaintiffs contended Aadhaar provided the Indian government with a detailed profile of citizens' spending habits and personal data, and that it would be all-too-easy for a government not committed to privacy to misuse the data.

The Court's reasoning was firmly libertarian, invoking "life and personal liberty" as "inalienable rights" fundamentally "inseparable from a dignified human existence." The Court broadly defended privacy among "family, marriage procreation, and sexual orientation" as "important aspects of dignity."

This last definition by the Court is a boon to advocates of decriminalizing homosexuality in India. The opinion left the door open to future legal challenges against existing laws, declaring "the right to privacy and the protection of sexual orientation lie at the core of the fundamental rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the [Indian] Constitution."

Thursday's ruling represents a significant leap forward for the individual rights of 17 percent of the world's population, who live in the world's largest democracy. As it continues a decades-long process of economic liberalization with a sweeping tax reform, India, unlike China, appears positioned to join the developed world as a liberal nation respectful of personal liberties. That's cause for celebration.

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  1. This is pretty funny, and everybody needs a laugh at bureaucrat’s expense, no?

    Quoting from the Indian Constitution, as linked by Wikipedia:

    15. (1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.
    (2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race,
    caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any
    disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to?
    Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
    (a) access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment; or
    (b) the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of the general public.
    (3) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children.

    So a naive person would read that as women and children getting special privileges. and no doubt a lot of people high-fived each other over it. But a realist would just laugh at the possible laws “helping” women by forbidding them from the horror of owning property or, or making it easier for them to be rid of troublesome spouses by allowing men to say “divorce” three times and get ut of marriage. I mean, who would want to make it hard for abusive men to get away from the women they bother?

  2. So an Indian equivalent of Preet Bhahara wouldn’t be able to go on fishing expedition for personal records?

  3. Finally! Now the NSA can’t collect metadata on Indians!
    Alternate joke has to do with stereotype of Indian tech worker, but takes too much effort to actually work out.

    1. “Well, we tried to detect patterns in their communications, sir, but we just could NOT figure out what they were saying… Plus they somehow got Gary to sign up for two unlimited coverage deals at the same time. So, to preserve the department’s budget, we had to terminate the operation.”

    2. This is why i’ve outsourced completion of your joke to a joke farm in Bangalore.

  4. I guess now we know what those turbans are made of… *crinkle crinkle*

  5. Good luck enforcing that right.

    1. I’m sure the Indians have something similar to our NSA, but there’s no way its anywhere near as competent or well-funded. Or were you talking about local governments in India ignoring national laws and getting away with it?

      1. competent/well funded = intrusive

  6. And just where in the United States Constitution did these activist judges happen to discover a right to privacy?

    1. I have no idea what kind of feeble joke you’re attempting there, so I’ll just say that the 4th amendment is all about privacy, such as the 1st is all about speaking your mind and the 2nd is all about self-defense. The 3rd, well, I doubt the founding fathers would be thrilled about the standing armies we call police, but other than a few isolated cases, the 3rd is a bit odd man out.

    2. Failed attempt at sarcasm, or actual unawareness that this article is about India (which is NOT governed by the U.S. Constitution)? Given Tony’s posting history, it’s impossible to know for sure!

      1. But the opinion sourced the USA & other countries for precedent.

    3. Tony sees India as little more than another Puerto Rico to the US.

  7. I hope SCOTUS is awake and taking notes…

    1. Well, your honor has the right to hope.

  8. I first read that as “Indiana”. No such luck.

  9. You wouldn’t know it by observing reality, but Florida’s Constitution has a right to privacy clause. It is regularly ignored.

    1. Florida Man assumes it will be enforced…he’s regularly surprised to discover it’s not.

  10. But… why legalize homosexurality? It’s not as if there were a libertarian party OR population explosion in India. Since when have individual rights mattered?

  11. The Aadhaar and Right to Privacy Case has raised issues relating to an Individual’s privacy but the Honourable Supreme Court ruled in the favour of one’s privacy and declared Right to Privacy as fundamental right under the Article 21 of Indian Constitution. Read more about the timline of Aadhaar and Right to privacy Case here:

  12. As you may be also need to get the free fifa 18 coins here and so we have been prepared with some hack for fifa coins online.

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