False choice: It’s wrong to pose a dichotomy between food security and the right to privacy–Times of India–03.08.2017

In the Supreme Court nine-judge bench hearing on the constitutional status of right to privacy, senior advocate CA Sundaram appearing for the Maharashtra government asserted that privacy would always take a back seat to securing basic needs of people. He even posed the question: “What is better, two square meals or right to privacy?” In response, the learned judges of the court rightly argued that people’s economic rights could never be a ground to undermine fundamental rights.

In real life the choice between food security and supposedly ‘higher order’ rights pertaining to freedom and privacy is a false one, often used by Marxist regimes to justify authoritarian administration. As the work of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has demonstrated, famines are less widespread in a democratic regime, as a guaranteed right to free expression also means that reports of famine cannot be suppressed. In the present case under consideration, Sundaram’s argument represents an unnecessarily cavalier attitude to privacy on the part of the government.

As far as privacy is concerned, it’s true that government initiatives like JAM – the trinity of Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and mobile governance – require authorities to collect citizens’ data for facilitating welfare benefits and direct transfers. However, such data needs strong protection safeguards to prevent misuse. It’s wrong to posit one against the other; if the government wishes to promote Digital India it must also institute robust data protection for citizens. To this end the Supreme Court should uphold a basic right to privacy. Moreover, it’s also in the government’s interest to come up with a strong law protecting data privacy.

Such a law would mandate the consent of an individual for collecting and processing her personal data, with “exceptions” against this right being closely and narrowly defined. Further, there needs to be strict accountability in case of data breaches, with procedures and punishments laid down. India has signed on to international treaties guaranteeing the right to privacy. Many countries have already enacted privacy legislation. Moreover, BJD MP Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda recently tabled a private member’s bill – Data (Privacy and Protection) Bill, 2017 – in Parliament outlining useful provisions for protecting citizens’ data in India. These are templates that can be utilised to enact privacy legislation, and it’s not a prospect that government should resist.

via False choice: It’s wrong to pose a dichotomy between food security and the right to privacy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s