New Delhi: The Supreme Court Wednesday said that people live in the era of “information revolution” where their entire lives are stored in the cloud or in a digital dossier and members of a civilized democratic society have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
The apex court, which appointed a three-member expert panel to probe the alleged use of Israeli spyware Pegasus for surveillance of certain people in India, said it must be recognised that while technology is a useful tool for improving lives of people, it can also be used to breach that “sacred private space” of a person.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said that every citizen of the country ought to be protected against violations of privacy and it is this expectation which “enables us to exercise our choices, liberties, and freedom”.
“The right to privacy is directly infringed when there is surveillance or spying done on an individual, either by the State or by any external agency,” said the bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli.
“We live in the era of information revolution, where the entire lives of individuals are stored in the cloud or in a digital dossier. We must recognize that while technology is a useful tool for improving the lives of the people, at the same time, it can also be used to breach that sacred private space of an individual,” the bench said in its 46-page order passed on a batch of pleas seeking independent probe into the alleged Pegasus snooping matter.
It said that privacy is not the “singular concern” of journalists or social activists.
The bench said although declared to be inalienable, the right to privacy cannot be said to be absolute as the Constitution does not provide for such a right without reasonable restrictions.
“As with all the other fundamental rights, this court therefore must recognize that certain limitations exist when it comes to the right to privacy as well. However, any restrictions imposed must necessarily pass Constitutional scrutiny,” it said.
The apex court said it is cognizant of the State's interest to ensure that life and liberty is preserved and must balance the same.
It noted that in today's world, information gathered by the intelligence agencies through surveillance is essential for the fight against violence and terror.
“To access this information, a need may arise to interfere with the right to privacy of an individual, provided it is carried out only when it is absolutely necessary for protecting national security/interest and is proportional. The considerations for usage of such alleged technology, ought to be evidence based,” it said.
“In a democratic country governed by the rule of law, indiscriminate spying on individuals cannot be allowed except with sufficient statutory safeguards, by following the procedure established by law under the Constitution,” the bench said.
The pleas seeking independent probe are related to reports of alleged snooping by government agencies on eminent citizens, politicians and scribes by using Israeli firm NSO's spyware Pegasus.
An international media consortium had reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus spyware.