Right to Privacy – Interpretation and its Development



Right to privacy is one such right which has come to its existence after widening up the dimensions of Article 21. The constitution in specific doesn’t grant any right to privacy as such. However, such a right has been culled by the Supreme Court from Art. 21 and several other provisions of the constitution read with the Directive Principles of State Policy. In this paper we will be discussing over a new dimension of Art. 21 that is the Right to Privacy and also the conflicts related to it.

According to Black’s Law Dictionary “right to be let alone; the right of a person to be free from any unwarranted publicity; the right to live without any unwarranted interference by the public in matters with which the public is not necessarily concerned”.


Article 21 of the Constitution of India states that “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”. The right to life enshrined in Article 21 has been liberally interpreted so as to mean something more than mere survival and mere existence or animal existence. It therefore includes all those aspects of life which makes a man’s life more meaningful, complete and worth living and right to privacy is one such right. The first time this topic was ever raised was in the case of Kharak Singh v. State of UP where the Supreme Court held that Regulation 236 of UP Police regulation was unconstitutional as it clashed with Article 21 of the Constitution. It was held by the Court that the right to privacy is a part of right to protection of life and personal liberty. Here, the Court had equated privacy to personal liberty.

Evolution to Right to Privacy

Ancient India

The concept of privacy can also be pragmatic in the ancient text of Hindus. Looking at the Hitopadesh which enumerates that certain matter such as worship, sex and family matters should be protected from disclosure. The very concept is not entirely non-familiar to Indian Culture, but some jurist like Sheetal Asrani-Dann has certain doubts about the right to privacy in India, in view of this, she also explains Upendra Baxi’s view, but, Upendra Baxi is clearly alarmed with kindness, sympathy, humanity or gentleness, which is an unabated curiosity; it is not about ill-will. Even the privacy in ancient time was related to ‘Positive Morality’. So, in spite of this, right to privacy was vague in the ancient Indian text.


Article 21 of the Constitution of India states that “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”. After reading the Article 21, it has been interpreted that the term ‘life’ includes all those aspects of life which go to make a man’s life meaningful, complete and worth living.

Right To Privacy-Permissible Restriction

Intrusion into privacy may be by- (1) Legislative Provision (2) Administrative/Executive order (3) Judicial Orders. Legislative intrusion must be tested on the touchstone of reasonableness as guaranteed by the Constitution and for that purpose the Court can go into proportionality of the intrusion vis-à-vis the purpose sought to be achieved. (2) So far as administrative or executive action is concerned it has to be reasonable having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case. (3) As to judicial warrants, the Court must have sufficient reason to believe that the search or seizure is warranted and it must keep in mind the extent of search or seizure necessary for protection of the particular State interest. In addition, as stated earlier, common law did recognise rare exceptions for conduct of warrantless searches could be conducted but these had to be in good faith, intended to preserve evidence or intended to prevent sudden anger to person or property.


The bill says, “every individual shall have a right to his privacy — confidentiality of communication made to, or, by him — including his personal correspondence, telephone conversations, telegraph messages, postal, electronic mail and other modes of communication; confidentiality of his private or his family life; protection of his honour and good name; protection from search, detention or exposure of lawful communication between and among individuals; privacy from surveillance; confidentiality of his banking and financial transactions, medical and legal information and protection of data relating to individual.”

The bill gives protection from a citizen’s identity theft, including criminal identity theft (posing as another person when apprehended for a crime), financial identify theft (using another’s identity to obtain credit, goods and services), etc.

The bill prohibits interception of communications except in certain cases with approval of Secretary-level officer. It mandates destruction of interception of the material within two months of discontinuance of interception.

The bill provides for constitution of a Central Communication Interception Review Committee to examine and review the interception orders passed and is empowered to render a finding that such interception contravened Section 5 of the Indian Telegraphs Act and that the intercepted material should be destroyed forthwith. It also prohibits surveillance either by following a person or closed circuit television or other electronic or by any other mode, except in certain cases as per the specified procedure.

As per the bill, no person who has a place of business in India but has data using equipment located in India, shall collect or processor use or disclose any data relating to individual to any person without consent of such individual.

The bill mandates the establishment of a Data Protection Authority of India, whose function is to monitor development in data processing and computer technology; to examine law and to evaluate its effect on data protection and to give recommendations and to receive representations from members of the public on any matter generally affecting data protection.


Justice K. S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr. vs Union Of India is a landmark case and the judgment was given by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. The judgment given in the case by the Bench gave a new perspective to the Right to Privacy of the citizens. It was held that the Right to Privacy is a Fundamental Right under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.

The Hon’ble Court upheld the Aadhaar Act and stuck down the provision of the Act which was unconstitutional. It was held by the Court that the Right to Privacy of the citizens has to be protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution. The Court explicitly overruled the previous landmark judgments of the Supreme Court Kharak Singh vs State of UP and M.P Sharma vs Satish Chandra in which it was held that Right to Privacy is not a Fundamental Right of the citizens under the Indian Constitution.

In Govind v. State of Madhya Pradesh , Mathew, J. accepted the right to privacy as an emanation from Art. 19(a), (d) and 21, but right to privacy is not absolute right. “Assuming that the fundamental rights explicitly guaranteed to a citizen have penumbral zones and that the right to privacy is itself a fundamental right, the fundamental right must be subject to restriction on the basis of compelling public interest”. Surveillance by domiciliary visits need not always be an unreasonable encroachment on the privacy of a person owing to the character and antecedents of the person subjected to surveillance as also the objects and the limitation under which the surveillance is made. The right to privacy deals with ‘persons not places’.

In Smt. Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India & Anr.,(1978) in this case SC 7 Judge Bench said ‘personal liberty’ in article 21 covers a variety of rights & some have status of fundamental rights and given additional protection u/a 19. Triple Test for any law interfering with personal liberty: (1) It must prescribe a procedure; (2) the procedure must withstand the test of one or more of the fundamental rights conferred u/a 19 which may be applicable in a given situation and (3) It must withstand test of Article 14. The law and procedure authorising interference with personal liberty and right of privacy must also be right just and fair and not arbitrary, fanciful or oppressive.

In Naz Foundation Case (2009) Delhi HC gave the landmark decision on consensual homosexuality. In this case S. 377 IPC and Articles 14, 19 & 21 were examined. Right to privacy held to protect a “private space in which man may become and remain himself”. It was said individuals need a place of sanctuary where they can be free from societal control- where individuals can drop the mask, desist for a while from projecting on the world the image they want to be accepted as themselves, an image that may reflect the values of their peers rather than the realities of their nature.

People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India. In this case Public Interest Litigation was filed protesting rampant instances of phone tapping of politician’s phones by CBI. The court ruled that ‘telephone conversation is an important facet of a man’s private life’. The right to hold a telephone conversation in the privacy of one’s home or office without interference can certainly be claimed as “right to privacy”. So, tapping of telephone is a serious invasion of privacy. This means that telephone tapping would infract Article 21 unless it is permitted under the procedure established by law. The procedure has to be “just, fair and reasonable”.

PUCL vs. Union of India

This case is considered as a landmark case as, after the delivery of the judgement of this case, the right to privacy was protected under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1949.

In this case, the Court held that the right to privacy falls within the ambit of right to life and personal liberty and is protected and guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1949.


Right to privacy is an essential component of right to life and personal liberty under Article 21. Right of privacy may, apart from contract, also arise out of a particular specific relationship, which may be commercial, matrimonial or even political. Right to privacy is not an absolute right; it is subject to reasonable restrictions for prevention of crime, disorder or protection of health or morals or protection of rights and freedom of others. Where there is a conflict between two derived rights, the right which advances public morality and public interest prevails.

In today era privacy is very major issue along with data privacy it must be protected as while interpreting the article 21 this concept has risen now it must be solve quickly and our privacy should be secured.

Author: Kiran Mai,

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