August 24, 2017, will count as another important day in the history of our 70-year-old democracy and nation – a day when privacy was firmly established as a fundamental right of every citizen under Article 21 and Part 3 of our Constitution.
There are many implications of this judgment – but mark my words – the full import of this will be seen and felt over the coming years as the relation between citizen and state, and citizen and corporates get redefined and recalibrated to realise the vision of being not just the world’s largest democracy but also the most advanced democracy.
It is only in recent years that we have seen a determined effort at improving governance, changing our direction and transforming ourselves around a vision of a New India – one where citizens are empowered and connected and a New India that is economically growing and is assertive about its national
interests. A strong educated, empowered and responsible citizen is at the core of that vision.
As more and more Indians are going online and he/she is expanding his/her online footprint, this judgment effectively creates, for the first time, obligations and responsibilities for all entities, government or private, that deal with the information of these Indian citizens.
It has embedded consumer rights within the Constitution and it will have far-reaching implications on the way data are collected, managed and used by all data-driven entities – government or private (like the telecommunication companies, internet service providers, e-commerce companies, app developers and so on). It will be their responsibility to use the data provided by individuals in a manner which is responsible and does not infringe the privacy of citizens.
I have repeatedly raised this issue in Parliament starting with a private members Bill way back in 2010. I have raised the dangers of corporate misbehaviour many times – the practice of some telcos/ISPs embedding software into browsers and tracking internet browsing history of its users, the ability to get confidential data about consumers from Aadhaar, telcos, ISPs, banks, e-commerce companies etc.
This judgment will change all that – the rampant casualness about managing consumer data and the flourishing industry that prevails on illegal trafficking of consumer/citizen data will come to a screeching halt soon. It will also change the relation between corporates and their employees. For example, corporates that conduct surveillance or any other intrusive practice on their employees will also find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
Corporate HR departments will have to make sure nothing that is done in the name of cyber security or any other reason breaches the privacy of the employee. Consumers are now assured that they have the right to challenge any invasion of their privacy – by any or all custodians of their data. It will make businesses accountable for holding customers’ data and will deter them from misusing it or using it for purposes other than those intended without express consent of consumer or legal backing for it.
Take the case of Aadhaar for example. It will continue to be a cornerstone of the government’s attack on corruption in subsidy and delivery of benefits. We already know the Aadhaar that the National
Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has built shares very little with the Aadhaar of the previous regime – it now has legislative backing; its verification process is far tighter and scores of fakes enrolled earlier are being removed. But those entities that are authorised to access the Aadhaar database will be restricted from reusing the data or information – which is a flourishing illegal cottage industry currently. The constitutional Bench
dealing with Aadhaar will now see to it that the legislation and protections, and rights and obligations under it are aligned to privacy being a fundamental right.
To summarise, August 24, 2017, has put the country, government, business and its future transformation on a clear, well-defined runway. Expect to see real boost to the prime minister’s vision of a new India by using Digital India, and to see a continued fight on corruption in government subsidy delivery with a renewed and strengthened Aadhaar. Expect to have businesses that are more responsible and accountable to their citizen consumers as Digital India boosts the number of Indians online to about 800 million over the next two years.
The writer is a Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha