Article 21 And Right To Privacy
Updated: Nov 18, 2023
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution states the following: “Protection of Life and Personal Liberty: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” Article 21 is part of the fundamental rights enshrined in Part III of the Constitution, which guarantees certain basic rights to all individuals. This article is considered one of the most important and fundamental rights as it safeguards the right to life and personal liberty.
On the front, it might seem positive, and one might assume that the Constitution grants an unconditional right and ensures the protection of one’s life and personal liberty. On interpretation and paraphrasing of the same, it could be said that a person could be deprived of a person’s life and personal liberty according to a procedure established by law. This clearly gives us the true picture, that the right is not absolute or unconditional.
The interpretation of Article 21 has evolved over the years through judicial pronouncements. The Supreme Court of India has expanded the scope of Article 21 to include various aspects related to human rights and individual freedoms. Some of the significant aspects covered under Article 21 include:
1) Right to Life: Article 21 guarantees the right to life, which includes the right to live with dignity. It implies that the State cannot arbitrarily take away a person's life, and it places an obligation on the government to protect the life of every individual.
2) Personal Liberty: Article 21 protects personal liberty, ensuring that individuals have the freedom to make choices, move freely, and enjoy their rights without unwarranted interference from the State.
3) Procedural Safeguards: Article 21 ensures that any deprivation of life or personal liberty must be done in accordance with a fair and just procedure established by law. It guarantees the protection of due process and prevents arbitrary action by the government.
4) Right to Privacy: The Supreme Court has held that the right to privacy is an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21. This interpretation has significant implications for safeguarding individual privacy rights.
5) Right to Dignity: The Supreme Court has recognized that the right to life under Article 21 encompasses the right to live with dignity. This includes protection against torture, and cruel or degrading treatment, and ensuring basic human rights and conditions of life
The right to privacy is a fundamental human right that protects individuals from unwarranted intrusion into their personal life, family life, home, and private communications. It is considered an essential aspect of human dignity and autonomy. The right to privacy is recognized in various international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
In the digital age, the right to privacy has gained significant attention due to the widespread use of technology and the internet. Issues such as data protection, surveillance, and personal information security have become crucial aspects of the right to privacy. Governments, corporations, and other entities are increasingly collecting and processing vast amounts of personal data, raising concerns about how this information is used and protected.
The right to privacy is not explicitly mentioned in the Indian Constitution, but the Supreme Court has recognized it as an integral part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21. In 2017, the Supreme Court, in the landmark judgment of Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) v. Union of India, held that the right to privacy is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution. The case is commonly known as the "Aadhaar case" because it primarily dealt with the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar program, a biometric identification system implemented by the Indian government. The Aadhaar program was introduced with the aim of providing a unique 12-digit identity number to Indian residents based on their biometric and demographic data. It was intended to streamline various government services, improve efficiency, and reduce fraud. However, the Aadhaar program faced criticism and legal challenges, primarily concerning the right to privacy of Indian citizens. The case reached the Supreme Court, and in a historic ruling on August 24, 2017, a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court unanimously declared that the right to privacy is a fundamental right protected under the Indian Constitution
The judgment in the Puttaswamy case recognized that privacy includes the right to control one's personal information, the right to make autonomous decisions about one's intimate and personal choices, and the right to be left alone. The Court emphasized that privacy is essential for the protection of human dignity, personal autonomy, and the development of an individual's personality.
Since the recognition of the right to privacy as a fundamental right, the Supreme Court has applied it in various contexts. For example, it has held that privacy protects against unwarranted surveillance, interception of communication, and the collection and misuse of personal data. It has also recognized the right to privacy in matters related to sexual orientation, reproductive rights, and informational privacy.
The right to privacy is not an absolute right and can be subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by law. These restrictions must satisfy the tests of legality, necessity, and proportionality. The government can interfere with the right to privacy if there is a legitimate aim, and the measures taken are necessary and proportionate to achieve that aim.
Countries may have varying legal frameworks and interpretations regarding the right to privacy. Some have explicit constitutional provisions protecting privacy, while others rely on common law or statutes to safeguard this right.
Overall, Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, read in conjunction with the right to privacy, ensures that individuals have a fundamental right to live with dignity and exercise control over their personal lives, free from unwarranted intrusion by the State or others. The right to privacy is a crucial aspect of a democratic society, ensuring that individuals have control over their personal information and can live without unwarranted intrusions into their private lives. As technology continues to advance, ensuring robust legal protections and ethical practices is essential to uphold this fundamental human right.