Protecting privacy must for safeguarding liberty: Legal experts at Goa meet

Panaji, Feb 15 (PTI) There are certain red lines where right to privacy cannot be breached, legal experts said on Saturday as they stressed that protecting privacy is must for safeguarding one's liberty.

They were also of the opinion that the Supreme Court judgment making Aadhaar mandatory for disbursement of benefits and subsidies failed to achieve much.

The entire Aadhaar database is based on self-certification as people can change their personal information online and no one verifies it, senior Supreme Court advocate Shyam Diwan said.

'We cannot allow India to become a surveillance state. A surveillance society is completely antithetical to the working and functioning of a democracy,' said Diwan, who was one of the lawyers who represented the petitioners before a 9-member bench of the apex court on right to privacy as a fundamental right.

He was speaking on 'After the Aadhar judgement: Do individuals have right to privacy' on the second day of Difficult Dialogues, an annual forum that examines issues of contemporary relevance in South Asia, at the International Centre Goa here.

He said 'we are creating a database that is of very little value'.

He added, 'If you want to protect your liberty, you have to protect your privacy. Understanding of privacy after this judgment is very serious.' Legal researcher and Aadhaar critic Usha Ramanathan argued that the battle is not that 'my neighbour will know something about me or not, it is about preserving ourselves from this kind of invasion'.

She claimed there are many problems with Aadhaar, such as biometric verification, cards being bought and sold, and a frightening number of data leaks from a huge number of government departments.

What has got completely sullied in the last 10 years is who has to be transparent and to whom, she said.

'In these years we have been told that people are corrupt, people do wrong and they will be watched every time. But if you look at first 10 years of the century, it is the politicians, bureaucrats who were involved in major scams and the sufferers are the people,' she claimed.

On RTI, she said the law was to make the government transparent to the people but it is making the people transparent to the state.

Arghya Sengupta, research director of a legal think-tank based in Delhi, said, 'The understanding of what extent of invasion of privacy is permissible is something we as individuals have to ask us. We need to be careful as to not make privacy on such a pedestal that it is over and above our fundamental rights,' he pointed.

The courts are not meant to answer pure questions of law, they are meant to apply the law to the facts, he said.

On the privacy of health data, Sengupta said, 'Health information is sensitive according to the law and can be shared only with the explicit consent of the individual. It is a different matter that the state is abusing its understanding of privacy to derive information.' The Supreme Court in September 2018 declared the Aadhaar scheme constitutionally valid, while striking down some of its provisions, including its linking with bank accounts, mobile phones and school admissions. PTI DPB ZMN