On Sep 2, 2017, SFLC.in organized a discussion titled “Celebrating the Right To Be Let Alone” to commemorate the recent recognition of right to privacy as a fundamental right, discuss the privacy judgment, its key takeaways, the impact it will have on pending Aadhaar litigations, how it will affect various aspects of policy making and the way forward from here. The speakers for the discussion included Prasanna S. (Advocate), Vickram Crishna (Technologist & Human Rights Activist), Dr. Usha Ramanathan (Legal Researcher), Ritu Srivastava (General Manager, Research and Advocacy, Digital Empowerment Foundation) and Sukarn Singh Maini (Counsel, SFLC.in). Saikat Datta (Policy Director, Centre for Internet and Society) moderated the discussion.

The event started with a short introduction of the speakers, followed by a cake-cutting ceremony to celebrate the historic judgment and the recognition of the right of privacy as a fundamental right.

Mr. Prasanna S., who has been actively involved in the privacy and Aadhaar litigations since its inception, elucidated the history of privacy litigations in India, and gave a brief background of the judgments in M.P Sharma and Kharak Singh cases. He further explained the recent privacy judgment in detail. On being asked about the implications of the judgment on Aadhaar, Prasanna highlighted the key parts of the judgment that talked about balancing of compelling state interests with the right to privacy and the principle of proportionality.

Mr. Vickram Crishna, who is also a Board Member of SFLC.in and one of the petitioners’ in the Aadhaar case, was of the opinion that the Unique Identification Authority of India cannot be the custodian of peoples’ private data. He discussed the all-pervasive nature of technology and how it has creeped into all aspects of our lives. However, he disagreed with the point of view that privacy is broken by technology. He emphasized that the lack of privacy due to the advancement of technology should not be used as an excuse, and that we should still find ways to protect and reassert our right to privacy. Mr. Crishna also expressed his anguish with the Government and mentioned that he feels abandoned as a citizen, when he witnesses the Government flouting Supreme Court orders that make Aadhaar a voluntary scheme.

Dr. Usha Ramanathan was of the view that the Aadhaar project is not just about the violation of privacy, but also built to favor corporate interests. She remarked that the project is not helping in the siphoning of money, but in fact, excluding people from obtaining welfare benefits that they otherwise are entitled to. However, she maintained that elevating the right to privacy to the status of fundamental right will make a strong case against Aadhaar. Ms. Ramanathan also talked about the implications of the judgment on right to information. She emphasized that the only solution to countering mass surveillance projects like Aadhaar by the Government is civil disobedience.

Ms. Ritu Srivastava expressed her views on the use of technology for the purpose of governance. She said that there are various other alternatives to Aadhaar that can be employed for identification. Ms. Srivastava was of the opinion that citizens and the Government need to be mutually transparent, but such is not the case with respect to Aadhaar, wherein only citizens are expected to be transparent and there is no information with regard to the security system of Aadhaar and the ownership of data that is collected.

Mr. Sukarn Singh Maini illuminated everyone on the recent committee formed by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and headed by former Justice B.N Srikrishna, to decide India’s data protection policy and come up with a draft data protection bill. He also highlighted the key points of the consultation paper on data privacy that has been floated by TRAI and is awaiting comments from the public.

The discussion was followed by a brief audience interaction round.