Who is more powerful: the Government or citizens? In a democracy, citizens have more power because they elect their representatives. Every four or five years, citizens can return the government or elect a new one. The word ‘democracy’ is derived from the Greek and means ‘rule by the people’. But a Supreme Court judgement could alter this balance of power forever. The court is hearing a case on whether the right to privacy should be a fundamental right. Its nine-member constitution bench reserved its verdict when it met on Wednesday. A judgement is expected in the coming days, or weeks.
If the apex court rules in favour of the Government’s line, which is that privacy is not a fundamental right, the concept of democracy would be in jeopardy. That is because the Government seems to be of the view that it can have unhindered and unregulated access to the lives of the people it serves. Private agencies can’t encroach upon someone’s privacy, but the Government can. Imagine government agencies not just keeping an eye on your social media accounts, but also having the right to open your cupboard whenever they want.
The Government could argue that monitoring can help it curb tax evasion, and that there are enough safety measures to protect data. Even if there are — there have been instances in recent past to prove otherwise — this would be dangerous for India, given its frail social fabric. Without a right to privacy, people could be discriminated against based on their physical and mental condition, caste and class. Also, breakdown of privacy will suppress dissent, a pillar of democracy. Without dissent, or in the absence of an opposing point of view, society will stagnate, creativity will be killed. No individual, community or government has progressed without inculcating criticism. Democracy upholds that right. The Supreme Court should do everything to ensure the right to privacy. It should also define its contours so that in future none, including the Government, can interpret it differently.
Senior Deputy Editor