The law of privacy is recognition of the individual’s right to be let alone and to have his personal space inviolate. The need for privacy and its recognition as a right is a modern phenomenon. It is the product of an increasingly individualistic society in which the focus has shifted from society to the individual. In earlier times, the law afforded protection only against physical interference with a person or their property. As civilisation progressed, the personal, intellectual and spiritual facets of the human personality gained recognition and the scope of the law expanded to give protection to these needs.
The essence of the law derives from a Right to Privacy, defined broadly as “the right to be let alone.” It usually excludes personal matters or activities which may reasonably be of public interest, like those of celebrities or participants in newsworthy events. Invasion of the right to privacy can be the basis for a lawsuit for damages against the person or entity violating the right.
The Right to Privacy is not enumerated as a fundamental right in the Indian Constitution. However, this right has been culled by the Hon’ble Supreme Court from Article 21 and several other provisions of the Constitution, read with directive principle of state policy.
The notion of fundamental rights, such as a Right to Privacy as s part of Right to Life, is not merely that the State is enjoined from derogating from them. It also includes the responsibility of the State to uphold them against the actions of others in the society, even in the context of the exercise of fundamental rights by those others.
The Right to Privacy in India has failed to acquire the status of an absolute right. In comparison to other competing rights, like, the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, the right of the State to impose restrictions on account of safety and security of the State, and the Right to Information, Privacy is easily relinquished. The exceptions to the Right to Privacy, such as overriding public interest, or the safety and security of the State, apply in most countries. Nonetheless, an unwarranted invasion of privacy by the media is widespread.
The Court’s broad interpretation of the Right to Privacy has paved the way for a wide range of claims. While the exact boundaries of the right will continue to develop on a case-by-case basis, it is clear that privacy claims will often have to be weighed against other competing interests. In the absence of a defined hierarchy among the various rights guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution, the decision in each case will vary based on facts at hand and the judicial interpretation. The real test of privacy will lie in how subsequent Courts apply the Puttaswamy decision to determine these varied questions.