Writing for The Hindu, Prasanna S and Maansi Verma, Trustees at Article 21 Trust, argued that the notion that “Indians don’t care about their privacy” was an argument that was repelled by the nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court in KS Puttaswamy Judgment (privacy, 2017). They were responding to an OpEd published in the paper where the authors had raised certain issues related to the Bombay High Court’s order that directed the I&B to conduct an investigation about the personal information of 4,000 RTI applicants which were made public. The Authors in their piece argued that no law or principle of law prevents the state from disclosing such information about the addresses of citizens and cited the example of telephone directory. In their response, Prasanna and Maansi argued that these examples have not been judicially tested, especially in the context of such information being available digitally, where the unforeseeability of extent of harms is aggravated: something which the nine-judge Bench decision also acknowledged.
They noted that the writes failed to see the line of reasoning that justifies the decision of the court i;e the citizen's interest in guarding their address as private and personal information, unauthorised or mandatory disclosure of such information constitutes an infringement and privacy being a fundamental right that state must protect and any state action must justify the four-pronged test developed in Puttaswamy (Privacy). They cited an example of Allahabad High Court’s order where the Court has observed that displaying the photos of protesters along with their address and names was ‘nothing but an unwarranted interference in the privacy of people.”
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Writing for The Wire, Maansi Verma and Prasanna S, Trustees of Article 21 Trust argued that the Telecommunication Bill, 2022 continues the trend of the government being insecure about the rights of the citizens of the Country. They highlighted that in the absence of the Data Protection Law, which was mooted by the Government in 2017 to appease the Supreme Court of India during the hearing of Puttaswamy (privacy) and later its latest version- Bill of 2021 being withdrawn from the parliament, the laws which would have required the compliance with data protection regime, can now be conceived and implemented.
They pointed out that the Telecommunication Bill fails to bring any reform in the existing law and, instead, extends the powers of interception on OTT messaging applications. The government has assumed the powers that it never had under any law before. The minister in charge however has said that the decryption shall not be forced, it is not clear how the government shall realise the purpose of interception under Clause 24 of the Bill. While Courts have held that any state action that seeks to engage or restrict the fundamental rights must be “necessary in a democratic society”, Clause 24 does away with the requirement of necessity and the powers of blocking, interception and decryption can be exercised on the ground of expediency also.
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