Right to Privacy

The Oxford Dictionary of Law defines privacy as the “right to be left alone. The right to a private life…” Taking a cue from this definition, we can say that the right to privacy is the right to keep our personal information private. Personal information can include electronic communication, sexual orientation, professional activities and even feelings or intellect.

Privacy, as a concept, is not new. Ancient Greece was divided into Polis and Oikos – the public or political sphere, and the private or familial sphere. However, the ‘right’ to privacy is something that is more modern in nature. Although the right to privacy can include both physical privacy and privacy related to communications, with the advent of newspapers, television and the internet, the concept is now more about informational privacy. From the recent Pegasus issue to the Edward Snowden exposé- the attack on privacy comes in the form of overreaching encroachment on private communications. However, we must not forget that the right to privacy is much more than just the right to private communication.

Fundamental Rights like such, are a part of the Polity Syllabus for the civil services exam, and questions based on the same are asked under the GS Paper II of UPSC Mains. 

Also, the aspirants preparing for the upcoming IAS Exam can refer to the related links given below and include them as a part of their UPSC preparation:

Aadhaar and the Right to Privacy Right to Private Property 
List of Important Articles in Indian Constitution Comparison between Indian and US Fundamental Rights

Right to Privacy [UPSC Notes]:-Download PDF Here

Right to privacy in the Indian context

In India, multiple cases where people have raised concerns over privacy have been registered, and the Supreme Court of the country has fairly announced judgements objecting to any violation of the citizen’s Right to Privacy. To read in detail about India and its Privacy concerns, candidates can visit the linked article.

Despite the absence of any dedicated article in the Indian Constitution, the Supreme Court of India has extended the purview of Article 21 and upheld that the right to privacy is a fundamental right too. 

Right to Privacy – Article 21

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution speaks about-

  • Right to life
  • Right to personal liberty

According to this article, every person – citizens and non-citizens have the right to live and the right to have personal liberty. The state can’t deprive any person of these two rights except under procedure as prescribed by the Indian Penal Code.

Complement your UPSC 2022 preparation with the set of links given below:

Supreme Court rulings that gave a new meaning to Article 21

Although Article 21 does not speak specifically about the right to privacy, the Supreme Court of India, in various instances, extended the meaning of Article 21. There are many such SC rulings, but two of them are the most important.

a. Previous Supreme Court Rulings Against the Right to Privacy

  • A.K Gopalan v. The State (1950)

In this case, the petitioner argued that the search and seizure operation carried out in his property violated the provision of Right To Property, as mentioned in Article 19(1). However, the court rejected the argument regarding the right to privacy, saying that the act of police did not obstruct his right to utilise his property. The court also mentioned the caveat of ‘reasonable cause’, which gives police the power to search and seize. 

  • Kharak Singh V. The State of UP

In this case, the petitioner argued that the nightly domiciliary visit to his home by the police violated his right to move freely across India, as enshrined by Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. The petitioner also objected to the police shadowing him. While the court agreed that the nightly domiciliary visits did violate the petitioner’s right to live a dignified and free life, it also agreed that the right to privacy was not a fundamental right, and hence surveillance of his movements did not violate the Constitution.

We mentioned these two cases because these were the first instances when the concept of the Right To Privacy was discussed in the Supreme Court.

b. Supreme Court Ruling That Upheld the Right to Privacy (Article 21 context)

  • Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd) vs Union of India (2017)

During the hearing of a petition that challenged the constitutional validity of the Aadhar based biometric system, the Supreme Court of India unanimously agreed that the right to privacy is a fundamental right as enshrined by the Constitution. The court expanded the purview of Article 21 and said that the Right to Life and Liberty, as stated in Article 21, also included the right to privacy. Since Article 21 falls under Part III of the Indian Constitution, which deals with fundamental rights, the right to privacy thus automatically became a fundamental right after the judgement. Since then, the right to privacy has been a fundamental right in India.

Read in detail about the Puttaswamy vs Union of India case at the linked article.

Government Exam 2022

Personal Data Protection Bill (2019): Precursor To Right to Privacy Act

As we said in the beginning, privacy in the modern context is more about the privacy in electronic communications and the ensuing personal data generated through such activities. The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 aims to localise the data processing activities of the internet platforms, which is akin to the GDPR law in Europe. A concept of ‘data fiduciary’ has emerged from this bill. The data fiduciary is the one who collects the data (like Google). It needs to establish why it is necessary to collect someone’s personal data (for example – enabling the person to sign up for an online service). The fiduciary needs to maintain transparency and the necessary encryption systems to protect personal data.

Above all, the end-user has the right to know whether her data has been processed or not. Some of the lawmakers have objected to some parts of the bill as well, the nature of which will be cleared in the coming years.

Further-Read for UPSC Exam

The subject of the Right to Privacy is one of the most important current affairs topics that encompass a wide range of concepts. We recommend that you read some more information regarding this topic for your IAS exam. Some of the resources are stated below:

  • The Right To Privacy Bill (2011) (Source – Chief Information Commission official website)
  • Maneka Gandhi Case

Right to Privacy [UPSC Notes]:-Download PDF Here

Furthermore, IAS exam aspirants must also carefully review the UPSC Syllabus for the Polity section as it is one of the key subjects from which questions are asked in both the Prelims and the Mains examination. 

For any further details, exam updates or study material, visit BYJU’S. 

Other Related Links
Indian Polity Notes For UPSC IAS Polity Questions and Answers
Topic-Wise GS 2 Questions for UPSC Mains Indian Polity Questions in UPSC Mains GS 2
Previous Year UPSC Prelims Polity Questions With Solutions UPSC Mains General Studies Paper-II Strategy, Syllabus & Structure

Frequently Asked Questions on Right to Privacy


Q 1. Does India have a right to privacy law?

Ans. As of December 2021, India does not have any Privacy Law. However, the winter session of the Indian Parliament is set to discuss the Personal Data Protection Bill via a Joint Parliamentary Committee, which can lead to the formation of privacy law. Hence, as of now, the Supreme Court Ruling of 2017, which stated that the Right To Privacy Is a Fundamental Right, is considered as the guiding path.

Q 2. Does the Technology Act (2000) protect the privacy of Indian citizens?

Ans. Yes, the Technology Act (2000) does protect the digital privacy of Indian citizens. The act led to the formulation of certain technical jargon like ‘originator’ or ‘database’ making it easy for the court to understand their implications. The act also stated that any person or entity that illegally accesses a computer, database or computer network will be liable to civil, criminal proceedings. The act also said that the breach of personal data would result in the imposition of a penalty.

Q 3. What is the Right to Privacy article in India?

Ans. In India, the definition of Article 21 has been expanded by the Hon’ble Supreme Court to include the right to privacy. According to the court, this right is intrinsically connected with the right to life and liberty. Hence, the right to privacy is now a fundamental right.


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