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Overarching guidelines needed to guard personal information: Supreme Court

Legal counsel, representing the UIDAI, said the State can't use Aadhaar to track individual actions

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

Supreme Court
Tripods of television crew stand in front of the Indian Supreme Court building in New Delhi. (Photo: Reuters)

The on Tuesday said that there has to be “overarching” guidelines to protect an individual's private information in public domain to ensure that it was used only for an intended purpose. A nine-judge Bench, dealing with the contentious issue whether right to was a fundamental right, rejected plea of a Gujarat government lawyer that misuse of personal information could be dealt with on a “case-to-case basis” and said an all-embracing guideline was needed keeping in mind the size of the population. The Bench, headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar, also referred to the fact that was a signatory of a 1948 international convention which recognised as a human right. Referring to arguments put forward by the Maharashtra government on the issue, the court said, "Even if we accept it that the Constituent Assembly dealt with it (issue) and decided against including it as a fundamental right, then how you will deal with the fact that is a signatory to the Universal Declaration on which recognises it.” The Bench, which also comprised justices J Chelameswar, S A Bobde, R K Agrawal, R F Nariman, A M Sapre, D Y Chandrachud, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and S Abdul Nazeer, said that there has to be an “overarching” or all-embracing guideline to ensure that the private information of individuals, put in public domain, was used only for an intended purpose. “If I give personal information like names, parents' name and telephone numbers for a particular purpose, then a reasonable expectation will be that it is used only for that particular purpose... (Otherwise) how we will deal with the violations?” it asked. On the issue that a large number of people have put their personal information in public domain, the bench said, “When you have so many users, then you cannot decide on facts of each case.

You have to have over-arching principles or guidelines to regulate.” At the outset, senior advocate C A Sundaram, representing the Maharashtra government, said the apex court has been entrusted with the power of interpretation of the and the and it cannot introduce right to as a under the “Parliament and only Parliament can do it,” he said. “This is not a case of interpretation of the or the This is the case of introduction of a right as a This can be done only by Parliament,” Sundaram said. He then referred to the terms, interpretation, introduction and interruption and said that the courts could interpret, but not introduce as a In the Constituent Assembly debates, the forefathers of the had considered the issue of and decided against including it as a and if, now it was being felt that it should be considered as a fundamental right, then only Parliament could do it, he said. The Bench, however, said that it could not be stated that the Constituent Assembly debated every aspect of Sundaram said some aspects of can be traced to Article 21 (Right to Life and Personal Liberty) of the Constitution, but it cannot be held as a On the issue of data protection, he said that Article 300 of the dealing with common rights may be taken recourse to in a case of a violation. Right to was "statutorily" protected and there was no need to elevate it as a to deal with any possible infringement, he said. He submitted that Article 21 refers to the term "personal liberty" and not "liberty or civil liberty" and the term personal liberty means physical liberty only. "Instead of expanding the scope of fundamental rights, you are saying that contract the scope of the to liberty," the bench said. Responding to the query of the bench that was a signatory of a UN declaration, the senior lawyer said that an international obligation can be fulfilled by enacting a separate statute and there is no need of its inclusion as a Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Unique Identification Authority of (UIDAI) and the Madhya Pradesh government, referred to various legislations including the Income Tax Act, the Right to Information Act and the Indian Telegraph Act and said that aspects of has been protected under the statutes. Several legislations protect the aspect of and being a common right, it need not be elevated in the category of the fundamental rights, he argued. "is inherently a vague and subjective concept which is incapable of any precise definition and its contours cannot be conferred with a status of a fundamental right," Mehta said. The legislature has been granting protection to the various aspects of "common right to privacy" through statutes, he said. He also referred to the prevalent practices in various countries and said there were instances where was not conferred the status of a constitutional right. Referring to the Aadhaar scheme, he said that even the State cannot track the activities of an individual by using the Aadhaar number and moreover, there are enough safeguards provided in the Act to protect personal information. Another senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for the Gujarat government, said that he did not take the "extreme position" that did not fall under any of the fundamental rights. He, however, said that facets of can be traced to Article 21. The arguments would continue tomorrow in the apex court which said that it might reserve the verdict in the matter.

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First Published: Wed, August 02 2017. 01:56 IST