by Arvind Pillai, Raghav Kohli
Privacy as a concept has been hotly debated with regard to its role in an individual’s personal sphere since antiquity. The inception of international instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, along with institutions such as the United Nations, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Council of Europe, have made the codification of privacy a global concern. However, despite the inception of these institutions, several states have refused to codify and respect privacy as a fundamental right guaranteed to an individual. Thus, the need arises to highlight the development of a right to privacy as a customary right with the help of widespread state practice around the world. The most recent country to address the question of what status privacy holds in the legislative framework of that state is India. Here a unique identifying number is provided to each citizen based on biometric and demographic information. Known as the ‘Aadhaar’ scheme, this is giving rise to grave concerns about bodily integrity, informational self-determination, and decisional freedom. Indeed, a nine-judge Constitution Bench has just unanimously affirmed that the right to privacy is a fundamental right under the Constitution of India (Justice K S Puttaswamy (Retd.), and Anr v Union of India and Ors (2017) 10 SCC 1)
This article traces the evolution of the right to privacy in India, starting with an exploration of its conception in the Constituent Assembly Debates of the longest Constitution in the world. It attempts to ascertain the intent behind the exclusion of the right to privacy as a fundamental right from the Constitution, and analyses the contemporary position developed by the inconsistent jurisprudence of the Courts in India. Finally, by scrutinizing the practices of states from around the world, it argues that the right to privacy, and in particular data privacy, can be considered a binding principle of customary international law.