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Communication Rights in the Age of Digital Technology

by rakesh — last modified Oct 24, 2015 07:45 AM
The Centre for Internet & Society (CIS) invites you to a conference to discuss the evolution of privacy and surveillance in India on Friday, October 30, 2015 at Deck Suite Hall, 5th Floor, Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road, Near Air Force Bal Bharti School, New Delhi - 110003, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Oct 30, 2015
from 11:00 AM to 05:00 PM


Deck Suite Hall, 5th Floor, Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road, Near Air Force Bal Bharti School, New Delhi - 110003

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The conference will be conducted in a round-table format. Topics to be discussed shall include, among others, the Human DNA Profiling Bill, 2012, the PIL questioning the data collection under the UID scheme, the draft National Encryption Policy and the Supreme Court judgement in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, in the context of privacy and surveillance in India. The conference will be a forum for discussion, knowledge exchange and agenda building.

Background Note

In India, the Right to Privacy has been interpreted to mean an individuals’ right to be left alone. In the age of massive use of Information and Communications Technology, it has become imperative to have this right protected. The Supreme Court has held in a number of its decisions that the right to privacy is implicit in the fundamental right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, though Part III does not explicitly mention this right. Since the 1960s, the Apex Court has been dealing with this issue, primarily with respect to privacy being recognised as a fundamental or common law right and the standards that need to be satisfied in order to impose any restrictions on it.

In the year 2012, the Planning Commission constituted a Group of Experts under the chairmanship of Justice AP Shah, Former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court to recommend a potential privacy framework for  privacy in India. Previously in 2011 the Department of Personnel and Training had prepared a draft Bill on Right to Privacy which has yet to materialize into a comprehensive legislation on privacy. In 2014, a version of the revised Right to Privacy Bill was leaked. Amendments to the Bill  aim to protect individuals against misuse of their data by the government or private agencies, and is in the process of being finalized by the Indian Government.

Of late, privacy concerns have gained importance in India due to the initiation of national programmes like the UID Scheme, DNA Profiling, the National Encryption Policy, etc. attracting criticism for their impact on the right to privacy. For example, DeitY introduced a draft National Encryption Policy in September this year to prescribe methods for encryption. However, the policy would have posed significant restriction on the ability of citizens to encrypt online communication. Backlash from the citizens, industry, social media and privacy experts led the Government to withdraw  the policy as the measures included made the information system vulnerable in every sense.

Earlier this year, the Apex Court gave a historical judgement by striking down section 66A of the IT (Amendment) Act 2008. The Court upheld section 69A and the Information Technology  (Procedure & Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009 to be constitutionally valid, which accords the government with the authority to block transmission of information and websites when it deems it as necessary for reasons like sovereignty and integrity of India, public order, etc.

Another government initiative which has generated considerable controversy for its threat to privacy is the UID project which aims to issue a unique identification number to all citizens by the Unique Identification Authority of India, which can be authenticated and verified online. In August this year, the Supreme Court, vide an interim order, restricted the use of Aadhaar by declaring it to be optional for availing government benefits and services. Though the Government contended the right to privacy as a fundamental right in India, the Court deferred this issue to a larger Constitutional Bench, and the Supreme Court upheld its decision yet again in the month of October.

Similarly, the draft Human DNA Profiling Bill 2015 is being questioned on grounds of privacy invasion on  a massive scale as it aims to collect and store the DNA samples of criminals, suspects, volunteers, and victims and regulate DNA laboratories and DNA sampling for use by law enforcement agencies. The Bill also fails to include comprehensive privacy safeguards and provisions regarding collection of DNA samples with or without the consent of an individual, making individual privacy an important concern.

Going by these ongoing debates, one can say that Privacy as a right has primarily evolved by way of judicial interpretation and continues to evolve in light of several controversial Government policies, projects and schemes. However its development is often undermined by tension between several competing national interests which calls for clear guidelines to protect this inviolable right of the citizens.

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