Sunday, January 9, 2011

Where Are Privacy Rights In India?

Privacy rights in India have always been neglected. Indian government has obvious interests in not enacting a well define privacy that that can curb the excessive surveillance and endemic e-surveillance activities of sate and its instrumentalities. Even the civil society kept a mum up to a stage when e-surveillance and phone tapping has become epidemic. Now all of a sudden privacy issues has become a nightmare for Indian government.

To start with, data and privacy laws are missing in India. Even there is no sign that such crucial laws would be enacted for another five years or more. All past assurances of Indian government in this regard are just fa├žade to keep civil liberties activists silent.

Further, there is no lawful interception law in India. Of course, we have a colonial law named Indian telegraph act that is not at all meeting the requirements of present time. Instead of enacting a suitable law that meets the requirements of Indian constitution, the Indian government is keeping the dead law alive for the sole purpose that its activities can remain free from judicial scrutiny and without legal obstacles. This law is also primarily used to engage in legal as well as illegal phone tappings in India.

On top of it are illegal and unconstitutional projects like Aadhar, national intelligence grid (Natgrid), CCTNS, etc and unaccountable authorities like UIDAI that are having an absolute free hand regarding funds, lack of accountability and absence of transparency.

UIDAI is one of the worst e-surveillance instrumentalities of India and prime minister’s office of India (PMO India) must take active steps to scrap Aadhar project and UIDAI till proper legal framework and adequate safeguards are at place.

Similarly, it seems that the Natgrid project would be imposed upon us by the cabinet committee on security (CCS). Although, Natgrid project has not yet been approved by CCS yet the way Home Ministry of India is lobbying there seems to be little hope that CCS would not be forced to grant its approval even after its own objections in this regard.

Similarly, there is little planning and coordination regarding CCTNS in India. In fact, CCTNS may not be accepted by various states of India in the absence of proper planning, guidelines and legal framework.

In all this drama, there is still little hope from the Supreme Court of India (SCI). The decision of SCI on the writ petition of Ratan Tata must also include the constitutionality of Aadhar project/UIDAI, Natgrid, CCTNS, etc. The SCI would be deciding about the conflicting interests of public interest and privacy rights but no such question arises when there is no public interest involved at all.

Indian government is violating privacy rights of Indians without just causes and in the absence of any legal framework. Let us hope the SCI would do justice to this situation and reformulate privacy norms for India as soon as possible and without delaying the matter too much. I hope the entire exercise of SCI is not limited to mere prohibition of release of phone tapping tapes.