Right to Privacy: What could the SC order mean for students?

In a landmark judgment passed by the nine judge bench of the apex court, ‘Right to Privacy’ got the legal status of a fundamental right of the citizens of India on August 24, 2017. Heading the nine judge bench, Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar ordered that the Right to Privacy would be ‘an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21′. While, this judgment will change a lot of norms in time to come, there are certainly some areas where it would affect the students of the country.

Requirement of Aadhaar Card for educational institutes

The apex court in it’s judgement has mentioned that the order is strictly for inclusion of Right to Privacy as one of the fundamental rights and that the issue of Aadhaar linking to various government services would be decided later by a five judge bench. Aadhaar has been intrinsically linked to many government projects and services in the last year by the ruling BJP government.

“As the debate between Aadhaar and Right to Privacy are linked, it is an important discussion for students as well. Students are being asked to provide their Aadhaar details for application, to admission procedure. Scholarships and UGC-conducted NET also demands Aadhaar details from the students,” said the Allahabad High Court advocate Rajat Rajan Singh.

Like the 17 government welfare schemes of the government, Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) also made it mandatory for the students to submit their Aadhaar details in order to apply for the examination this year. CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) directed the students to apply for the examination with their 12-digit Aadhaar number and directed those candidates who doesn’t have one, to apply for the same. The Aadhaar card contains the biometric details, that provides personal information of the applicants. The apex court had earlier also mentioned that the government should not make Aadhaar compulsory for welfare schemes.

Although, the judgment didn’t cover the debate surrounding Aadhaar, it could be seen as a pointer to development in the future for an intrinsic debate.

Surveillance at college campuses

Time and again students in various educational institutes have protested against the invasion of administration to the private spaces of the students. Be it JNU, IIT Bombay or IIT Madras, protests agains the installation of CCTV cameras in hostels, common rooms and other major areas around educational campuses were registered previously. With right to privacy now included as one of the fundamental rights, students can challenge the authorities against the CCTV cameras for surveillance in some of the objectionable places around the campus.

However, Student General Secretary of IIT Madras informed that surveillance is not that severe in their institute. “We don’t have any CCTV cameras in the corridors or any other private space in our campus. Although, there are cameras installed at places where we have important and costly instruments for security purposes,” said Sai Kiran. 

According to a media report, there are around 300 CCTV cameras installed around IIT Bombay to keep a check on ‘untoward’ incidents. Cameras have been installed inside some classrooms and hostel common rooms, making it difficult for students to freely discuss and roam around in their campus. “Surveillance in the college campus and classrooms doesn’t breach the right to privacy. But if an institute does it in any hostel room, corridors or a place of living of students, then it is a clear breach,” added advocate Singh.

Benefits vs Misuse

Like any other fundamental rights, Right to privacy cannot be absolute. There has to be a check on the same to avert any misuse of the same. While students can take refuge of the Right to Privacy in certain cases, they should not take advantage of the same. “It would be interesting to see what the government’s stand is towards collecting and using the Aadhaar data. If it is being conducted by a government body or agency, and is being kept out of the private hands, it should not be a reason to worry. Right to privacy doesn’t mean it would stop government to enlist data of the people of the country,” clarified Singh.

We asked the users of PaGaLGuY whether they think including Right to Privacy would change anything in particular for students, to which most of them had to say, it won’t.

However, while asking the question whether there will be misuse if the right to privacy is provided to the students, most of them said that it might.

Although it is an effective step taken up by the Supreme Court to safeguard the basic right of privacy under Article 21, it has to be seen how effectively it gets implemented in the everyday practice.