Supreme Court of India Judgement, Rethinking Privacy and FinServ

India is again setting the bar high for another important topic - Privacy. The data belongs to the user and not to the custodian (bank or anyone else).

In a recent judgement, a nine-judge Supreme Court Bench unanimously ruled that individual privacy is a fundamental right. The court noted that the "Right to Privacy is an integral part of Right to Life and Personal Liberty guaranteed in Article 21 of the Constitution."

The right to privacy verdict, although primarily passed on a petition filed about the Aadhaar Card scheme, will impact every company that collects and handles user data. The judgement was primarily focused on the protection of privacy of an individual’s digital information or data. Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul wrote:

Informational privacy is a facet of the right to privacy. The dangers to privacy in an age of information can originate not only from the state but from non-state actors as well.

In its 547-page judgment, the Supreme Court touched upon the different aspects of informational privacy – and explained how collecting data could threaten an individual’s privacy.

This Supreme Court ruling is a check: For both the government (against which the case was mainly fought) as well as the non-state actors or private companies, because it doesn’t just oppose any privacy invasive practices employed by the government, but also applies to private companies that collect user data.

Defining what is personal and confidential

The information must be personal and confidential to be protected by right to privacy. One of the points raised by the opposing counsel during the trial was that privacy was vague and ill-defined. The judges patiently tried defining what is private data, to carve out the scope of law.

For example, the Court pointed out that data about electricity consumption pattern of a person is NOT personal or confidential, and couldn’t be protected as private information. That said, the Court also cited a UK judgement that stated the storing of the biometric data indefinitely of individuals no longer suspect of criminal activities would be an invasion of privacy. Clearly, a person’s biometric data is both personal and confidential.

The Supreme Court used an infographic (from Bert-Jaap Koops et al., A Typology of Privacy) in its judgement to depict the nature of data and its classification. This is extremely rare and hence also shows how judges understood the importance of the judgement and that it would be read by people who might need simpler language and symbols to understand the implications:

Privacy in the digital world

While the court had a broader mandate and covered privacy from all aspects, they did co ...

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