It was ordinary citizens from all over the country whose determination led to the landmark Supreme Court judgement upholding right to privacy as a fundamental right against the Central Government’s efforts to violate privacy and demand revelation of data under Aadhaar.
The Government of India as well as various BJP ruled states argued in Court that citizens do not enjoy a right to privacy; that the poor do not need privacy; that citizens do not have a right over their own bodies; that the Constitution made no mention of privacy. The Supreme Court verdict demolished these arguments and upheld the right to privacy as a fundamental right. It affirmed that the right to privacy is not “granted” by the Constitution; rather every person is born with this right which the Constitution recognizes and affirms.
This remarkable and historic verdict has many aspects that give fresh meaning and relevance to the Constitution. One of its most significant aspects is that it reviewed and corrected the Supreme Court’s own flawed judgments – upholding the Emergency and upholding Section 377 that criminalises LGBT persons.
The verdict affirms, ““Discrimination against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation is deeply offensive to the dignity and self-worth of the individual.”
The verdict also affirms, “I do not think that anybody would like to be told by the State as to what they should eat or how they should dress or whom they should be associated with either in their personal, social or political life.” This has a direct bearing on the Constitutionality of laws under which BJP Governments have been justifying the raiding of private homes to search for beef; and attempts to ban the consumption of beef or slaughter of animals.
In upholding the right to privacy, the verdict also safeguards the right to dissent and diversity: an immensely significant thing at a time when the BJP Government is seeking to brand every opinion, every practice, every taste that is not in tune with the “majority” view to be anti-national and criminal. The verdict makes it very clear that the Constitution safeguards the right of citizens to hold their own views and opinion and sexual, cultural, and dietary practices even if the majority does not approve of them. The verdict is a reminder that democracy is not about the rule of the majoritarian mob but about the securing of the rights of minorities and dissenters.
The implications of the verdict for Aadhaar are huge. No longer can the Government sustain its right to indiscriminately and mandatorily demand the revelation of data as a precondition to access their wages, their rations, their pensions. Just as the Emergency sought to take away the right to privacy and place citizens’ lives under state surveillance, so does Aadhaar – and the SC verdict has now put a spanner in those works. The Government can no longer justify giving citizens’ private data into the control of foreign and corporate companies. It can no longer justify extracting and using citizens’ private data for the purpose of surveillance and snooping.
Aadhaar is not – as the Government claims – simply a benign use of technology to facilitate welfare measures. Surveillance technology is intimately linked with fascist and totalitarian projects. Can we forget that during Hitler’s rule, the IBM corporation created machines that served to identify and track Jewish populations across Europe, so that they could be ghettoized, and later transported to concentration camps?