Personal Musings

This blog is intended to be just a jumble of thoughts that hit me and need not necessarily mean anything.

My Photo
Location: Kerala, India

Water flows ...

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The "private" matter

Do we, in India, have privacy? To be more explicit, is right to privacy a fundamental right?

What lawyers and judges will argue: Yes.

The reality: NO.

The Article 21 which is supposed to provide us privacy doesn't actually talk about privacy. An opinion piece by Chinmayi Arun on the The Hindu regarding the state of privacy is available here. Here is another article in legalservicesindia that talks about the history of privacy in India. What is clear is that we all believe that we have a right to privacy because the Supreme Court interpreted as such in a bunch of cases, and not because we actually have the right.

Suppose you gave permission for your child to go to a mall to watch a movie and "to also have food from the food court of the mall because he is anyways there". Your child understood the explicit permission granted by you to spend your money correctly. He goes to a movie and eats from the food court of that mall. Say, the next day he goes to buy a shirt from a shop in the mall. He grabs something to bite "because he is anyways there" in the mall. The question now is: did you allow the child to waste your money on a food by interpreting the exact words of your permission. Supreme Court said something, and the citizens interpreted that privacy is there. If Supreme Court says something else, will the right to privacy go? Or, has Supreme Court taken over the role of a benevolent dictator who grants their citizen some rights. We still live in a democracy, not a kritarchy(rule by judges).

The test of a fundamental right is not whether a person can fight for it and get it from a court. The test for it is whether the said right is possessed by him by default and only malicious intention can deny him that right. From this perspective, the right to privacy may be a sort of right we may deem to have. Any person who may want to deny that right can do so with impunity. The target of such a malicious person can't really do much about it, as they have to now prove that their liberty has been violated.

What is actually private and what is not private? Is 'not private' same as 'public'? Is not public same as 'private'? These are the questions that can't be answered because the right is written as a string of few words within some remote copy of a court order. Anyone asks me what is right to equality, we can just point to the articles 14 through 18 in the Constitution of India. But if you ask about privacy, there is no place to point out.

 With the advent of internet, things have become a bit more murky. The concept of identity online and identity in real world are entirely different. For identity in real world or an offline identity, there is a physical entity/person who maps directly with the identity. The physical person can be photographed, described, touched; basically, the physical senses can be used to ascertain the identity of the person. The online identity has no such mapping or means to validate. Online, the identity is just a handle. The knowledge/posession of a password or a login key is the only means to assert the identity of an online entity. Whoever knows the password of "OfficeOfRG", for example, is deemed to be the identity called "Rahul Gandhi". Whoever logs into a banking site using a username and the corresponding password is deemed to be the holder of the said bank account. Or, just because biometric identity stored against an Aadhar number matches with a person, it is assumed that the identity of a person is what the Aadhar database says it to be.

So, I could just go to the local centre to register myself as Indira Gandhi. The Aadhar database records my finger print and iris pattern, and puts my name as Indira Gandhi, a female. (And you guys know how easy it actually is. Remember, no one verified our identity when we went to get our Aadhar number.) I can now demand the GoI to give me one more LPG connection in the name of Indira Gandhi and gobble up all the subsidy. Worse, if I do any crime, I can say that its done by Indira Gandhi and not me because the finger print matches with Indira Gandhi. Sorry for using first person to explain this, but the concept is basically simple: Aadhar is an identity of what the UIDAI wants it to be. Aadhar is not the National Population Register which keeps track of the citizens of India.  

Therein lies the problem.


Well, basically insert an article which could be titled as "Right to Privacy" somewhere preferably near article 21, perhaps even as 21A. Make a law termed "Right to privacy law" whereby all definitions on what is deemed to be private, both in the physical world and in the online world, could be clearly defined.
We would also need an amendment to the 'Aadhar Bill' that says that Aadhar information if used for any government scheme(whether it be for GoI or for a government of the state or union territory or local governing body), must be confirmed with the physical identity of the person as well.

This is a personal blog of the author. All opinions expressed are personal.


Post a Comment

<< Home