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Key Takeaways

  • By reading Article 21 of the Indian Constitution in accordance with Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, the Court has inferred the right to privacy.
  • This article talks about the Right to privacy of prisoner, husband and wife, parents and children and state and its official.
  • The article aims to provide various case laws given by the courts on the Right to privacy.
  • The article also talks about the difference between the right to privacy and the right to information.


Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to privacy, which is a requirement of the right to life and personal liberty. “No individual shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except in accordance with the method established by law,” according to Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

After reading Article 21, it was determined that the term "life" encompasses all parts of life that contribute to making a man's existence meaningful, complete, and worthwhile. The phrase privacy, in particular, is a dynamic concept that needed to be clarified. In the Indian Constitution, Article 21 has a wide range of applications. Tort law, criminal law, and property law all acknowledge the right to privacy.

In ancient times, the law only provided protection from physical threats such as trespassing, from which the Right to Property arose to safeguard one's home and livestock. This was regarded as a violation of one's right to life. As the ever-changing common law evolved to meet the needs of the people, it became clear that not only physical security but also spiritual and emotional security, as well as intellectual security, were essential.

Now, the right to life encompasses the right to be alone, while the right to liberty ensures the enjoyment of numerous civil privileges, and the term "property" has come to encompass all forms of possession, both tangible and intangible.

By reading Article 21 in accordance with Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, the Court has inferred the right to privacy. The right to privacy is protected in both of these international covenants.

Right To Privacy

The Supreme Court held in Kharak Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh that Regulation 236 of the Uttar Pradesh Police Regulation was unconstitutional because it conflicted with Article 21 of the Constitution. The right to privacy is an element of the right to life and personal liberty, according to the Court. The Court had equated privacy with personal liberty in this case.

The scope of this right was first considered in the Kharak Singh case, which involved the legality of specific legislation that allowed for the surveillance of suspects. This is the subject of SUBBA RAO J.'s minority decision. In 1975, the Supreme Court reviewed the right to privacy in light of Article 19(1) (d). JEEVAN REDDY J. held in a comprehensive ruling that the right to privacy is implied under Article 21. The right to be alone in this right.

The right to privacy was determined to be subordinate to the security of the state in the context of an anti-terrorism law, and withholding information important to the arrest of criminals could not be justified on the basis of the right to privacy. In a number of situations, the right to privacy under Article 21 has been discussed.

Privacy is a term that refers to personal privacy and was previously not deemed a basic right under the Indian Constitution until a landmark case, K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India was decided in 2017. However, our Indian courts have currently carved out a different precinct addressing privacy, and as a result, the Right to Privacy has been recognised as a basic right under Article 21.

Major Judgements In Relation To The Right To Privacy

● The right to privacy is an emanation of Article 19(1)(d), and 21, but it is not an absolute right, according to Mathew, J. in Govind v. State of Madhya Pradesh. “Assuming that a citizen's fundamental rights include penumbral zones and that the right to privacy is a fundamental right in and of itself, the fundamental right must be subject to restriction in the public interest.” Due to the character and antecedents of the person subjected to surveillance, as well as the purposes and limitations under which the surveillance is performed, monitoring through domiciliary visits need not necessarily be an unacceptable invasion of a person's privacy. The right to privacy is about people, not places.

● Under the case of Smt. Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India & Anr., (1978), a seven-judge SC bench stated that "personal liberty" in Article 21 embraces a wide range of rights, some of which have the character of fundamental rights and are afforded special protection under section 19. Any law that restricts personal liberty must pass the Triple Test:

(1) It must establish a method;
(2) the method must pass the test of one or more of the fundamental rights provided under Article 19 that may be applicable in a particular case; and
(3) it must pass the test of Article 14. Interference with personal liberty and the right to privacy must be legal, just, and fair, not arbitrary, whimsical, or oppressive.

● The Delhi High Court issued a significant judgement on consenting homosexuality in the Naz Foundation Case (2009). Section 377 IPC and Articles 14, 19, and 21 were examined in this instance. The right to privacy was established to guarantee a "private space in which man may become and be himself," according to the court.

Individuals, it was said, require a place of refuge where they can be free of societal control—a place where they can remove their masks and refrain for a time from projecting on the world the image they want to be accepted as themselves, an image that may reflect their peers' values rather than their own nature's realities.

It is now widely accepted that Article 21's right to life and liberty encompasses the right to privacy. The right to privacy is defined as the ability to be left alone. A citizen has the right to protect his or her own private, as well as the privacy of his or her family, marriage, reproduction, maternity, child-bearing, and education.

Anyone who publishes anything on the following topics without the person's consent could face a lawsuit for damages. However, if a person intentionally enters a controversy or voluntarily invites or generates a controversy, his or her position will be different.

● K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India, This is a recent case of Right to Privacy brought before a nine-judge Supreme Court bench by 91-year-old retired Karnataka High Court Judge Puttaswamy against the Union of India to decide if the Right to Privacy was recognised as a basic right under the Indian Constitution.

The problem, in this case, was a challenge to the government's Aadhaar programme (a type of standard biometrics-based identity card) that the government made mandatory for receiving government services and benefits. The case was brought before a three-judge Supreme Court panel on the grounds that the system infringed on the right to privacy.

● As a result, a Constitution Bench was established, with the conclusion that a nine-judge bench was required to examine whether a basic right to privacy exists under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

The petitioner contended before the court that the right to privacy is a fundamental right that should be protected under Article 21 of the Constitution as a right to life with dignity. The reply argued that the Constitution only recognised personal liberty to a limited extent, which included the right to privacy.

The Supreme Court's nine-judge panel unanimously agreed that Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees the right to privacy as an integral aspect of the right to life and personal liberty. Insofar as M.P. Sharma and Kharak Singh did not specifically recognise the right to privacy as a Fundamental Right, the Court overruled them.

● New technological improvements linked to a person's correspondence have impacted phone tapping and the right to privacy, and as a result, it has become a contentious subject. The Supreme Court stated in R.M. Malkani v. State of Maharashtra that the Court will not tolerate measures for citizen safety being jeopardised by allowing the police to use illegal or irregular procedures. Telephone tapping is a violation of the right to privacy and freedom of expression, and the government cannot prohibit the publication of defamatory materials about its officials, which is a violation of Article 21 and Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

● According to Justice Kuldip Singh in the case of People's Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India, the ability to hold a phone conversation in the quiet of one's own home or business without interference is unquestionably a right to privacy. The Supreme Court ruled in this case that telephonic conversations are private by nature, and hence phone tapping is a violation of one's privacy.

● The health industry is a major source of privacy concern and one of the most essential parts of the right to privacy. Health information encompasses not only information on one's health or handicap, but also information about possible health services. Many people see health information as particularly sensitive, which is a natural human propensity. The right to life is so vital that it takes precedence over the right to privacy. A doctor is bound by an oath or by medical ethics not to reveal confidential information about a patient if doing so would jeopardise or endanger the lives of others.

● Mr X v. Hospital Z, it was decided that, though the doctor-patient relationship is primarily commercial, it is also a matter of professional confidence, and that doctors are morally and ethically required to maintain confidentiality. In such a case, public disclosure of genuine facts may result in a conflict between one person's right to privacy and another's right to be informed.

Restriction To The Right

Legislative provisions, administrative/executive orders, and judicial orders are all examples of intrusion into privacy.

1. The legislative intrusion must be judged on the basis of reasonableness, as protected by the Constitution, and the Court can do so by looking at the proportionality of the intrusion in relation to the goal sought.
2. When it comes to administrative or executive action, it must be reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances of the situation.
3. In the case of judicial warrants, the Court must have reasonable grounds to think that the search or seizure is warranted, and it must consider the scope of the search or seizure required to defend the specific State interest.

Furthermore, as previously indicated, the common law recognised rare exceptions to the rule that warrantless searches could be done in good faith, in order to preserve evidence or to avert sudden damage to a person or property.

Prisoner’s Right To Privacy

● The Auto Shankar Case is also known as R. Rajagopal v. The State of T.N, a prisoner who wrote an autobiography on the conditions there and the ties that existed between the inmates and various IAS and IPS officers. He had given his memoirs to his wife with the intention of having them published in a specific magazine. However, the publishing was limited in a number of ways, prompting the question of whether anyone has the right to be left alone, especially in prison. The right to privacy was held implied in Article 21 in R. Rajagopal vs. State of T.N. (1994). “To be left alone is a right.” A citizen has the right to protect his or her own private, as well as the privacy of his or her family, marriage, reproduction, motherhood, childbearing, and education, among other things. In this instance, a prisoner's right to privacy was recognised.

● Even imprisoned convicts are protected under Article 21. Convicts do not lose all of their fundamental rights just because they have been convicted. A convict's fundamental liberties, such as the right to move freely across India's territory, may be taken away when he is sentenced to prison. A criminal, on the other hand, is entitled to the valuable right protected by Article 21, and he may not be deprived of his life or personal liberty until he follows a legal procedure.

Husband And Wife

In the sphere of matrimonial life, the right to privacy plays an essential role. In this regard, a balance must be struck between an individual's decision to marry and have children and the allowable boundaries set by society as a whole. Despite the fact that the worldwide norm of the right to marry provides for the individual right to marry, it has been difficult to guarantee this right in any Constitution due to the social component on the one hand, and other conflicting rights on the other. Another contentious issue is the right of children to procreate as part of their right to privacy, which cannot be allowed to operate in light of the larger national interest.

● Rajalakshmi M. Bhuvaneshwari v. Nagaphomendar Rayala is a case where the plaintiff, Rayala M. Bhuvneswari, sued the defendant, Nagaphom Rayala, the petitioner, filed a divorce petition in court against his wife and requested to provide a hard disc relating to his wife's chat with others recorded in the United States to corroborate his case. Some of the dialogue was rejected by her. The Court ruled that the husband's unauthorised taping of his wife's chat with others without her knowledge was a breach of her right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution. Even if the claims are true, they cannot be used as evidence. The woman cannot be forced to take a voice test and then have the expert compare her admitted voice to the section she denied. The Court stated that marriage is founded on the purity of the relationship between husband and wife. Without her knowledge, her spouse was secretly recording her phone conversations with her friends and parents in India. This is an obvious violation of the wife's right to privacy. If a husband is of this character and has no trust in his wife, even when it comes to her interactions with her parents, the institution of marriage becomes obsolete.

● The question in Sharda vs Dharmpal was whether a participant in a divorce action could be forced to undergo a medical examination. In this case, the court looked at the right to privacy of a married couple from a new perspective. In this case, the husband filed a divorce suit against his wife under sections 12(1)(b) and 13(1)(iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. He also requested a medical test for his wife, claiming that she is mentally unfit and incapable of fulfilling her matrimonial responsibilities.

The Supreme Court was asked to decide when and how a person might be asked for a medical examination in the context of a divorce petition filed on the basis of physical incapacity, as well as to what degree a married person has a right to privacy. In this scenario, a person can object to a medical examination on the basis of his or her right to privacy. If his plea is accepted, the court will have a tough time deciding the case. In such instances, a harmonic construction of statutory provisions is required. The court confirmed that the right to privacy granted by Article 21 is not absolute and is subject to some limitations.

● So far, the court has protected the regions of privacy within the marriage structure, but some parts of women's rights have been overlooked. India has yet to criminalise marital rape, and her sexual sovereignty continues to be violated.

● A distinct issue was presented to the court in Suchita Srivastava & Anr vs. Chandigarh Administration (2009). It was about a victim's right to keep her pregnancy and a woman's right to have her pregnancy terminated without her consent. A woman's pregnancy could not be terminated without her consent, according to the court. When a woman's pregnancy is terminated, her agreement is important because, as a member of the human family, she has the right to be regarded as such and has equal access to all human rights. By recognising a woman's right to make reproductive choices, the court stated that she has the ability to make decisions that affect her body and that this right is available to him under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the right to life and personal liberty, which includes the right to privacy.

● The Delhi High Court has ruled that a married woman's request for seclusion cannot be construed as cruelty to her spouse and thus be grounds for divorce. "The right to privacy is a basic human right. Privacy, according to the Oxford definition, is "a state in which one is not seen or disturbed by other people." When a woman marries, it is the responsibility of her family members to give her privacy "Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Deepa Sharma remarked.

● The remark was made while dismissing a husband's appeal of a 2010 trial court ruling dismissing his petition for dissolution of marriage on cruelty grounds. Aside from being harsh, the husband also raised the issue of irreversible marriage breakdown by claiming that their marriage had virtually lost its meaning because they had been living apart for 12 years and had reached a point of no return.

● The bench, however, noted that, despite the Supreme Court's recommendation to the Centre in 2006 to amend the Hindu Marriage Act to include irretrievable breakdown as a reason for divorce, no action has been taken to date. "There is no evidential proof by the husband or his family members that they gave appropriate privacy to the wife," the bench said. As a result, the family court was correct in ruling that such a demand was not unreasonable and hence did not amount to cruelty." The guy, who had married in September 2003, had filed for divorce at the trial court, stating that his wife had been harsh to him and urged him to establish a separate residence because she did not want to live in a joint family.

● The Indian Evidence Act of 1872 prohibits the disclosure of conversations between a man and his wife. It is one of the best examples of married couples' privacy, as well as the respect of the parties' right to privacy because marriage creates confidence, which inspires transparency of heart and feelings. This allows a married individual to tell his or her partner the truth about everything. As a result, such matters should be safe from disclosure, however, there are several exceptions to this rule. A wife can testify about her husband's actions on a certain occasion. A third person can testify to communication between a husband and wife that occurs in the presence of a third person or when overheard by a third person. A spouse can provide evidence of privileged communication with the consent of the party who made the communication on his behalf or with the approval of his representative in interest.

Parents And Children

The Universal Declaration is the first declaration on the right to privacy and family, stating that "no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home, or correspondence," and that "the family is the fundamental group unit of society entitled to protection by society and the state." Today, the right to privacy and family life has expanded to include a wide range of issues.

The majority of children and teenagers use the Internet for amusement and information, and they feel they have a legal right to do so. In the majority of situations, they are also aware of the dangers of accessing the Internet and are aware of their right to privacy. They appear to be more concerned about their right to privacy being violated by their parents or peers than by the government or commercial actors.

India must explore how to facilitate their right to involvement while also ensuring their privacy from both parents and friends, as well as the State and commercial institutions, without compromising their autonomy.

● On December 11, 2019, the Indian government introduced the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, in the Lok Sabha, and it has since been referred to a joint parliamentary committee for consideration. Section 16 of Chapter IV of the bill deals with children's personal and sensitive personal data. Before processing a child's data, a data fiduciary must verify the child's age and acquire the approval of the child's parent or guardian. The bill categorises children as those who have not yet reached the age of eighteen, as do most Indian legislation. According to the bill, the manner in which this verification process will be carried out will be determined by rules.

● The demand for parental consent must be considered in light of the children's general societal milieu. Because age alone does not tell the whole storey, we must also consider sociological, physiological, and other important elements when deciding how to handle children's privacy. The contemporary educational ecosystem has incorporated technological tools that have allowed pupils to develop and obtain a deeper grasp of the digital world. Adolescents, or youngsters between the ages of 16 and 18, frequently have an in-depth comprehension of their online actions that is comparable to that of adults.

● Different legal regimes around the world give additional safeguards to protect the privacy of children of various ages in respective countries. A kid who is at least 16 years old can consent to their data being processed in regard to information society services that are directly given to them, according to the General Data Protection Regulation of the European Union. It does, however, require parental consent for any child under the age of 16.

● In the United States, however, the Minors’ Online Privacy Protection Act requires a website or online service owners to notify children that personal information is being collected and to obtain verifiable parental consent. Even China's Cyberspace Administration only requires parental authorization to process data from children under the age of 14.

● In Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth, the Supreme Court of United States addressed a contradiction between fundamental rights including a parent's fundamental right to manage their children and a minor child's right to make a private decision about abortion. The state cannot impose an absolute requirement of the parental agreement for a pregnant minor's decision to have an abortion, according to the Court. The Court thus rejected the claimed interest in establishing parental authority, holding that the parental interest in the child's choices is at most equivalent to the minor's right to privacy. This case demonstrates the Supreme Court's belief that the basic right of parents to raise their children does not exceed the basic right of children to privacy.

Right To Privacy And Right To Information

The Supreme Court of India upheld two important rights: the right to information (RTI) and the right to privacy (RTP). They are, for the most part, two sides of the same coin. They work together to provide Indian citizens with the rights they value most and to hold the government responsible for them. Many people believe that if citizens use the RTI, government agencies can seek protection under the RTP.

This is a fallacy that the Supreme Court recently debunked when it determined that the Chief Justice of India's office will be subject to the Right to Information Act. While sharing any information under that statute, the apex court emphasised that the public interest should be preserved.

In 2005, the country passed legislation protecting our right to information. However, the Supreme Court has recognised the right to information as a fundamental right of citizens under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, which protects our freedom of speech and expression, in various decisions since 1975. This has been read in conjunction with Articles 14, 19, and 21 in order to ensure our rights to equality, freedom of speech and expression, and life and liberty.

● Any Indian citizen can request information from a "public authority," even the Chief Justice of India, under the RTI Act, and the relevant body must respond within 30 days. The law also encourages the transmission of public information via digital methods, reducing the necessity for individuals to use the provision that allows them to submit a formal request for information on a certain topic.

● Think about our right to privacy. This is a fundamental right and an integral aspect of Article 21, which under Part III of the Constitution safeguards people' lives and liberty. In Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr. versus Union Of India And Ors., a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court unanimously concluded that the right to privacy is an integral aspect of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

● Personal data can be withheld if it violates an individual's privacy. Our medical records are a wonderful example. Such information is exempt from the RTI standards because it would infringe on someone's privacy if it were disclosed. If the information is personal and would cause an unwarranted invasion of privacy and serves no public interest, it cannot be disclosed, according to Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, unless the central public information officer, the state public information officer, or any other appellate authority believes that disclosure would serve a larger public interest.

● As a result, the RTI and RTP present us with a conundrum. Is it possible to harmonise it? While the two rights may appear to be mutually exclusive, they can, as previously said, work in tandem to confer individual rights while also promoting better government accountability and transparency. However, this would need the country's efforts to reconcile the two.

● To limit disagreement and achieve a balance, the entire framework must have shared definitions and internal consistency. This exercise may necessitate legislative action because it requires certain legal provisions.


According to Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, the right to privacy is a condition of the right to life and personal liberty. The right to privacy is not an absolute right; it may be subject to reasonable restrictions for the prevention of crime, public disorder, and the protection of others. It may also arise out of a specific relationship, whether commercial, matrimonial, or political, and where there is a conflict between these two derived rights, the one that promotes public morality and the one that promotes personal privacy.

This right is growing more and more important as time goes on. With all of our lives being exposed to the public through social networking sites or surveillance cameras, everyone needs protection, and it should behave in such a way that no one thinks of invading an individual's right to privacy. Privacy should be safeguarded in every way, however, it is subject to reasonable constraints under the Indian Constitution and other applicable statutory provisions. One must recognise that privacy must be respected and kept within reasonable bounds so as not to be revealed to the rest of the world.

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