The Right To Privacy in India

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Introduction

Today, the degradation of the inner life is symbolized by the fact that the only place sacred from interruption is the private toilet. - Lewis Mumford, American philosopher

The needs of human beings start from the most primary needs such as food, clothing and shelter to secondary needs such as education, work and recreation and further on to wants such as entertainment, good food, leisure travel, etc . The question that must be asked is where does privacy fit into all these needs and wants? Is it a need or is it a want? Is it required anyway?

One might assert that the degree of privacy dictates whether it is a want or a need. A basic degree of privacy is a primary need in any civilised society. As the degree of privacy increases, it evolves into a secondary need and further to a want. As civilisation evolves, the law has evolved from guaranteeing the most basic needs of humans by converting them to rights and then slowly guaranteeing needs not necessarily for existence as rights, as and when society has been able to gather the resources to provide for these needs.

Yet, questions remain. What is privacy? As pointed out by Roger Clarke, we use many words without exactly considering their meaning. When we use words such as 'eat' and 'zebra', it does not matter, but when we use words such as 'discrimination' and 'ethnicity', one cannot have a rational discussion without having a common understanding of the terms .

Furthermore, what do we mean by 'degree of privacy'? The standards of privacy vary very widely from culture to culture and therefore even the law must accordingly fit into the standards of the society. The standards of privacy which a person living in the densely populated slums of Mumbai finds acceptable are totally different from the standards which the people living in a sparsely populated and remote village in Himachal Pradesh find acceptable, assuming that we leave alone the standards employed by the Scandinavians. Can there be a common benchmark for privacy, at least in India?

What cannot be denied, however, is that privacy is important. Warren and Brandeis, two American lawyers, in their seminal paper called 'The Right to Privacy', published in 1890 in the Harvard Law Review, could not have put it in a better way: "The intensity and complexity of life, attendant upon advancing civilization, have rendered necessary some retreat from the world, and man, under the refining influence of culture, has become more sensitive to publicity, so that solitude and privacy have become more essential to the individual..."

The most famous paper on privacy to have been published is the above mentioned 'The Right to Privacy', in which the authors encouraged a concept of privacy in which they understood privacy as 'the right to be left alone'. Privacy has several facets such as political privacy, medical privacy, genetic privacy, internet privacy, bodily privacy and privacy of communications. Ruth Gavison has recognised three elements in privacy: secrecy, anonymity and solitude .

The right to privacy is said to have existed in both classical Greece and Ancient China. More recently, Article 12 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights states, "No one should be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks on his honour or reputation."

Nature and Scope

This paper will first analyse how the concept of privacy has evolved in the law, and then focus upon the status of the right to privacy in India.

Objectives

The researcher will attempt to answer the following research questions:

* What is privacy in the eyes of the law?

* How has the concept of the right to privacy evolved in the law?

* What is the status of the right to privacy in India?

In the opinion of the researcher, the first research question cannot be explicitly answered and it is hoped that the reader gets an indication of what privacy is in the eyes of the...
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