Sunday, January 9, 2011

Will Supreme Court Of India Protect Privacy Rights In India?

Enactment of suitable Privacy Laws in India is long overdue. However, the Government of India has not considered this issue to be important enough.This is so even if Projects like Aadhar, NATGRID, CCTNS, etc may be declared to be “Unconstitutional” by Constitutional Courts of India. The matter is pending before the Supreme Court and this occasion can be utilised by it for prescribing “Stringent and Suitable” Privacy Rights Guidelines.

In this “Guest Column” Praveen Dalal, Supreme Court Lawyer and Managing Partner of Perry4Law, has analysed the possibility of expansion of right to privacy in India by the Supreme Court of India.

Few things related to 2G Scam have happened in the right perspective so far at the Supreme Court of India. The questioning of Supreme Court regarding inaction on the part of Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) India, giving due credit to the CAG’s Report, accepting Ratan Tata’s Writ Petition regarding Privacy Rights Violation, etc are some of them.

The latest to add to this list is denial of Supreme Court to issue any “Interim Relief” in the Tata’s Writ Petition and issuing of notices to open and outlook magazines which had published contents of the alleged taped conversation.

Tata had sought an interim relief for restraining the respondents from further publication of recorded conversations between him and Radia. He also sought an Injunction that would prevent the publishing and circulation of the contents of these conversations in “Any Form”. However, is it possible and does it make any difference at this stage?

The answer seems to be in Negative although Tata may not like the same. This is because contents of conversations are already out in “Public Domain” and on multiple traditional and electronic mediums and platforms. It is not possible for the Supreme Court of India or even for the Government of India to do much at this stage and in this regard.

However, one aspect has skipped the attention of all parties to the Writ Petition and even of the Supreme Court. The sole purpose of Ratan Tata seems to be to protect “His Privacy Rights” by preventing the “Disclosure and Circulation” of conversation or communication recorded through “Surveillance Methods” of State machinery. At this stage this concern and demand seems to be “Infructuous” and “Academic Purpose” only. This is because even if Supreme Court of India provides the “Relief” that Tata is claiming “In Toto”, the “Contents” of the conversation would remain on Internet and this is next to impossible to remove.

There is a blessing in disguise in Tata’s Petition. This is a golden chance for the Supreme Court of India to analyse the “Implementation” of its decision in the PUCL case (Phone Tapping Case). The Supreme Court must “Widen” the scope of Privacy Rights in India not only in the context of Phone Tapping but in an “Overall Manner”. The Supreme Court must formulate and lay down the widest possible “Guidelines” regarding Privacy Protection in India as it has done in the Vishaka’s Case (Guidelines against Sexual Harassment).

I hope this Writ Petition by Tata would come as a rescue of Fundamental Rights in general and Right to Privacy of Indians in particular. The only question that remains to be seen is will the Supreme Court of India protect Privacy Rights of Indians at large? I am optimistic and would be glad to see this outcome.