In a landmark decision, a nine judge bench of the Supreme Court of India ruled today that privacy is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution of India.
Due to the volume of cases brought before the Supreme Court of India, cases are generally heard by benches consisting of a subset of the ten justices of the Supreme Court. The question of whether there is a constitutionally protected right to privacy arose in a 2015 case brought before a three judge bench of the Indian Supreme Court challenging the legal validity of the Government of India’s Aadhaar program. Under the Aadhaar program, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), an Indian government authority, is charged to assign a twelve digit unique identification number (UID) to each of the over 1.3 billion residents of India. Each resident’s UID is linked to certain biometric information of the resident including his/her photograph, fingerprints and iris scans. The UIDs are used by the government for a variety of purposes including to eliminate fraud in connection with the dispensing of benefits under various government welfare programs. The three judge bench in the Aadhaar case determined that to assess the case appropriately, a determination of whether the right to privacy is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution of India was required by a larger bench of Indian Supreme Court justices. Given that the 1954 case of M.P. Sharma et al. v. Satish Chandra, District Magistrate, Delhi et al. holding that privacy is not a right guaranteed by the Indian Constitution was decided by an eight judge bench, a larger bench of nine Supreme Court justices was convened to determine whether the rationale of the M.P. Sharma judgment and others which similarly found that the Indian Constitution does not guarantee a right of privacy was based on “jurisprudential correctness.” This bench of nine justices of the Indian Supreme Court listened to arguments presented over six long days spread over three weeks.