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Privacy is now a fundamental human right in India, the country’s highest court has ruled.
Supreme Court judges ruled that the right to privacy was “an intrinsic part of Article 21” of the Indian constitution, which states: “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty.”
The ruling comes after a large multi-party case against the government’s policy of mandatory national identity cards, known as Aadhaar. Critics took to court their concerns that the compulsory use of identity cards would infringe privacy.
The court ordered that two earlier rulings that said privacy was not fundamental in 1954 and 1962 now stood overruled.
A nine-member bench comprised of all the sitting judges in the Supreme Court heard petitions denouncing Aadhaar as an infringement of privacy before the ruling.
“The judgement read out so far only says that the right to privacy is a fundamental right, protected by Article 21 [of the constitution on the right to life and personal liberty],” Prashant Bhushan, a senior lawyer who was party to the case, told reporters.
“Any law, like the Aadhaar Act or any other law, which seeks to restrict the right to privacy will have to be tested on the touchstone of Article 21.”
The policy of national ID cards was first launched in 2009 to combat benefit fraud. It means over a billion Indian citizens have their fingerprints, iris scans and personal data stored in a government database.
The scheme covers access to benefits, bank accounts and taxes, but rights groups think the data could be easily breached or misused. They say the the Aadhaar identity card links enough data to create a comprehensive profile of a person’s spending habits, their friends and the property they own.
When the Aadhaar database was launched, it was billed as a voluntary scheme to combat corruption and provide access to benefits for those who needed them.
But recently the cards have been made compulsory for banking, tax returns, loans, buying and selling property and making purchases of 50,000 rupees (£610) and above.
The government has argued that the Indian constitution, which came into effect in 1950, does not guarantee individual privacy as an inalienable fundamental right.
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