Right to Privacy as Fundamental Right

Right to privacy was earlier recognized as “implicit” in the right to life and liberty – guaranteed by Article 21 of the constitution. However, implicit rights have been subject to judicial scrutiny time and again.

As per current judicial pronouncements, the right to privacy is a fundamental right enforceable against state as held by the Supreme Court in R.Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu.

Further, the right to privacy could also be extended against private persons through the law of torts (torts are law dealing with ‘civil wrongs’).

Evolution of Right to Privacy via various Judicial pronouncements

Various Judicial interpretations related to right to privacy could be traced back to case of M.P. Sharma v. Satish Chandra (1954) wherein SC held that “constitution-makers did not recognize the fundamental right to privacy, analogous to the American Fourth Amendment and the said right cannot be imported into the Constitution by some process of strained construction”. Therefore under this judgment, right to privacy was not a Fundamental Right.

Similarly, in Kharak Singh’s case (1964), the petitioner Kharak singh challenged the constant surveillance on him by U.P police on grounds of violation of article 19 and 21. But a six judges bench of Supreme Court struck down the petition holding that Right to Privacy is not guaranteed under constitution.

It was in Govind v State of Madhya Pradesh (1975) case when Supreme Court recognized Right to Privacy as implicit in the Right to Life and Personal Liberty guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution. However, court made it clear that this was not an absolute right and reasonable restrictions can be imposed on basis of public interest.

In R. Rajagopal vs. State of Tamil Nadu (1994) an auto driver, who was sentenced to death in a case of murder, disclosed in his autobiography his relations with some public officials. The SC held that publication of any information without the consent of the person would be violation of Article 21.The only exception is when the information is based on public records. SC further said “A citizen has a right to safeguard the privacy of his own, his family, marriage, procreation, motherhood, childbearing and education, among other matters.”

Further in P.U.C.L. v. Union of India , the Supreme Court of India, while laying down the standards for telephone tapping had observed that the right to privacy is an integral part of the fundamental right to life enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution.

So the SC has liberally interpreted Article 21 so as to ensure an individual a dignified and meaningful life. We note here that our constitution is a living document which evolves and grows with the changing needs of society. This is testified by number of amendments done in our constitution after its enactment and recognition of new rights under article 14,19 and 21. Therefore even if it is not incorporated as a FR then also its an inferred right under article 21 and subject to reasonable restrictions on the basis of public interest (Govinda Vs State of Madhya Pradesh). Therefore its very much embedded in the constitutional scheme.

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