Does Centre really think it can now fool us by claiming it was all for right to privacy?

Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has claimed government was of the view that right to privacy should be a fundamental right.

 |  5-minute read |   24-08-2017
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The Union minister holding the twin portfolios - law and justice, as well as information technology – Ravi Shankar Prasad has garnered wide-scale ridicule for his comment that the government was after all for the fundamental right to privacy. In fact, in a press conference , and in a series of tweets, Union minister Prasad has tried mollycoddling the citizens of India into forgetting how the BJP-led Centre would go down in history as the one which birthed the (in)famous line: “Citizens don’t have absolute right over their bodies”, and extension of “privacy isn’t a fundamental right”.

Prasad has, in a series of tweets, tried to sound reasonable over the privacy verdict, saying that the government was supporting privacy as a right, but with reasonable restrictions. His tweets, as well as the press conference in which the Centre has tried to whitewash its attempts to encroach into citizens’ fundamental rights, are an exercise in acute irony.

It’s important to recall that the written submissions as well the arguments made in court before the nine-judge Supreme Court constitution bench have been all about combating the relentless assaults from the Centre on the fundamental rights of citizens, as it mandated Aadhaar for almost every public amenity, even though the Aadhaar Act itself held it as a voluntary proof of identity. This resulted in exclusions, surveillance, data leak, heightened concerns about digital surveillance, censorship and many other gruelling problems impacting millions.

Precisely why, the Centre’s statement on the privacy verdict is so misleading, full of equivocations and attempts to claim credit where it clearly tried to erect massive obstructions. Once again, in typical BJP style, the Modi-led Centre has decided to pin it entirely on the Congress and UPA regime.

While Aadhaar was a UPA brainchild, it assume its draconian proportions under the NDA. The push for biometric identity bulldozed existing laws – even the Aadhaar Act itself – and tried riding roughshod on the fundamental rights of citizens. In denying right to privacy, the Aadhaar juggernaut discriminated rampantly between those who had Aadhaar and those who didn’t, almost criminalising those who refused to link Aadhaar to their PAN for filing income tax returns.

No wonder then RS Prasad and the government got major rebuke from the privacy activists and generally everyone on the right side of the privacy debate on Twitter. The microblogging site had a field day making fun of the joke that the Centre has turned itself to.

However, the bigger picture should be about what the government intends to do henceforth, now that it has been dealt a comprehensive blow in its attempts to browbeat civil liberties. For example, even though decks have been cleared for the curative petition on Section 377 as the 2013 SEC judgement has been substantially panned in the privacy verdict, without the government’s go-ahead, it cannot be achieved.

Similarly, the implications of the privacy judgement on beef ban, DNA Profiling Bill, Aadhaar itself, national security-driven intrusions, censorship, online speech, internet shutdowns etc, must be worked out, but at every point it’s going to be a citizens versus State battle.

Also read: How three judges struck down triple talaq, but upheld Muslim personal law

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