The right to privacy in India :Terms and Conditions Apply

Though Privacy is a fundamental human right recognized in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Indian Supreme Court went another way saying ” There is no fundamental right to privacy and even if it is assumed as a fundamental right, it is multifaceted. Every facet can’t be ipso facto considered a fundamental right,” as Supreme Court of India justice bench told on 27th July, while also saying “informational privacy” could not be a right to privacy and it could not ever be a fundamental right. So what does this decision mean for us?

In a perfect society (and this is what we should aim for), all information will be accessible, everywhere, anytime, for anyone (but maybe for a small fee if that is needed to pay somebody who created it, intellectual property is a whole another issue) as long the economic cost of storing information is lower than it’s economic income that you can get from using the information (And thus maximizing our profit).
As the economic cost of memory is approaching zero and the economic gains of having information to use (nearly anything can be useful: be it for historians, anthropologists, entrepreneurs who want to do market research, calculating probabilities,… ) are remaining constant or rising and even reinforcing themselves, this implies that anything will be available to look up, search through and analyze with techniques like big data in the future(Engineer in me hopes for this :p).

Universal accessibility of information and privacy can not go together, because privacy can be defined as the deliberately making information inaccessible, be it by not collecting the information (e.g. placing your finger on the microphone of your phone when talking to someone else about something the caller “has no business with”) or by deleting it (e.g. deleting the texts from your previous girlfriend).And thus we can’t have both as our goal for humanity, we can’t  gather as much information and delete it again on the other hand (because if  there was really a right for privacy we could exercise it on nearly any piece of information, because somebody might find it a violation even if somebody saw a picture of him as a little kid with braces, while someone else won’t).

If they can not coexist, one of them is wrong, this is the argument the Supreme Court Holds Right Now. That Privacy is in the wrong here. But is that it?  The Problem is we do not live in a perfect world. In the modern age Information is the most valuable commodity, and most powerful I would argue. With proper information, you can do anything. More power means a greater potential for abuse.

I’m sure they have that when the government says they should have a way to track its subjects because it grants ease of sharing information across agencies. And it’s precisely why, when people in their business are in charge of the government, it becomes a police state. If privacy and security really were a zero-sum game, we would have seen mass immigration into the former East Germany and modern-day China. While it’s true that police states like those have less street crime, no one argues that their citizens are fundamentally more secure.

We’ve been told we have to trade off security and privacy so often — in debates on security versus privacy, writing contests, polls, reasoned essays and political rhetoric — that most of us don’t even question the fundamental dichotomy.

But it’s a false one.

Security and privacy are not opposite ends of a seesaw; you don’t have to accept less of one to get more of the other. Think of a door lock, a burglar alarm, and a tall fence. Think of guns, anti-counterfeiting measures on currency and that dumb liquid ban at airports. Security affects privacy only when it’s based on identity, and there are limitations to that sort of approach.

The debate isn’t security versus privacy. It’s liberty versus control.  Right to privacy cannot be an absolute right and the State may have some power to put reasonable restriction, the Supreme Court said,the bench then referred to the apex court judgement, criminalising gay sex and said, if right to privacy was construed in its widest sense, then the verdict in the Naz Foundation case “would become vulnerable”. Did you catch that? You’re expected to give up control of your privacy to others, who — presumably — get to decide how much of it, you deserve. That’s what loss of liberty looks like.

Privacy is essential to limit powerprotect the individual and supports free speech.Limiting the power of governments and corporations is supported by strong privacy. If governments and companies know more about you, they can exert control and influence. For example, Facebook serves you news you might like, rather than news that is important. Google can sell you products you will likely buy, not products you really need. Privacy is essential to preserving your individuality as a human being.

Now Protecting the individual means enabling anyone to decide for themselves what they share with others and what they choose to keep private. There are topics I could ask you about your personal life that you will not share with me. I could use that information to steal from you, to ridicule you, to physically harm you or to otherwise limit and influence your freedom.

Free speech in its purest form allows for all ideas to be expressed without limitation, regardless of acceptance of those ideas and without risk of punitive treatment as a consequence (I’m not saying free speech doesn’t have consequences, but free speech shouldn’t have consequences severely limiting your fundamental freedoms). Privacy allows people to express thoughts without fear, with whom they choose.

Privacy is about preserving freedom in a socio-liberal, individualistic society. That is the world we live in, not a perfect one.


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