The right to privacy versus the people's right to know: challenges and the way forward
Nearly a year back, a nine judge bench of Supreme Court unanimously affirmed
that the “Right to Privacy” is a fundamental right under the Indian
Constitution. This was not the first time SC upheld right to privacy as it has
been doing this in a number of decisions since Maneka Gandhi vs UoI (1978).
The SC has repeatedly upheld in last four decades that individuals have
autonomy over personal choices and can control over dissemination of their
personal information. However, the right to privacy is not absolute and is
subject to own set of restrictions. In R. Rajagopal (1994), SC laid out the
contours of the right to privacy while dealing with the biography of a
convicted criminal and held that right to privacy ceases to exist in matters of
public records including court records. It is because the right to privacy
gives way to people right to know that is part of the fundamental right to
freedom of speech (Article 19(1)(a)). Now what this means is that once a
personal dispute or a commercial dispute reaches the courts it becomes matter
of public record. In this talk, I will highlight the challenges of public
exposure of such public data-sets and how sensitive people are with respect to
the so called public records. Since many court judgments are related to living
people, the public availability impacts them in terms of their marriage,
business and job prospects and sometimes just reputation in the society. Some
of these impacts may be justified or not but a mere publisher
cannot sit in the judgment of these issues. Court approach to these issues have
mostly been ad hoc and they ordered case removal or name anonymization in some
cases where as refused to entertain other pleas. As public availability of such
data increases, we will see more of the right to know conflict with the right
to privacy. I will also outline legal and regulatory changes that can be
taken up for balancing such conflict.
- Legal and regulatory landscape governing the right to privacy.
- The public avaiability of public data-sets and people sensitivity to it
- Impact of the public availability of the public data-sets
- Current ad hoc solutions to balance right to privacy with the people right to know
- Legal and regulatory changes required for a more effective balancing of the two rights.
Sushant Sinha is the founder of the website Indian Kanoon (https://indiankanoon.org) – that allows common people to quickly find relevant Indian laws and court judgments. He did his Ph.D. in Computer Science and Engineering from University of Michigan under the guidance of Professor Farnam Jahanian. He picked up his M.Tech and B.Tech degrees in Computer Science from IIT, Madras. The master’s thesis was guided by Prof. C. Siva Ram Murthy.