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India Makes Privacy A Fundamental Right.

India's Supreme Court ( voted unanimously last week to declare privacy is a fundamental right, in a decision that may have serious implications for the nation's biometric identity card program and tech companies operating within the country.

The landmark ruling declared a right to privacy is guaranteed by Article 21 of the country's constitution, which states, "No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law." The nine-judge court's decision overturned two previous rulings that said privacy was not a fundamental right.

In addition to providing Indian citizens with a right to privacy, the court's verdict also struck a blow, albeit not directly, Aadhaar, the government's biometric identification system that has collected massive amounts of data from the more than one billion people living in India.

The database was originally designed to be a voluntary effort that would allow people to opt in to participation, but has turned into a mandatory system in recent years with the government requiring citizens to use Aadhaar when filing tax returns, opening bank accounts, taking out loans, buying and selling property or making large purchases.


During the case, the lawyers representing India's government argued citizens don't have an absolute right over their bodies and the government could subject them into providing biometric information, be it fingerprints or photos that could be used for face scans.

The argument reflects a similar position taken by the U.S. government, which collects face scans from Passport and Identification photos.

Earlier this year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Larry Panetta said "We currently have everyone's photo, so we don't need to do any sort of enrollment. We have access to the Department of State records so we have photos of U.S. Citizens, we have visa photos, we have photos of people when they cross into the US and their biometrics are captured into [Department of Homeland Security database] IDENT."

That argument fell flat for India's top court, which came as a relief to citizens concerned about the massive government database that contains everything from personally identifiable information and biometric data to financial records and in some cases purchase history and lifestyle information.

While privacy advocates praised the outcome of the case, it's still unclear what exactly it will mean, both for government programs like Aadhaar and for other tech companies operating within the country. Some advocates are already gearing up to bring the fight to data-collecting companies like Facebook and Google.

"These companies must brace for [legal action]," Sunil Abraham, executive director of the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society, ( told CNN . "Individuals who are unhappy with the treatment of their personal information can now take them to court, because it is an infringement of a fundamental right."

Another Supreme Court case is waiting in the wings that may have additional implications for how tech companies will be treated under the newfound right to privacy.

The ( case involves the popular messaging platform WhatsApp-used by more than 160 million people in India-and how its information is shared with Facebook, the social network and parent company of WhatsApp.
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Publication:International Business Times - US ed.
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Aug 31, 2017
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