Right to privacy against foreign companies not covered under Article 21

The Supreme Court on Thursday declined to entertain a petition seeking a direction to the Centre to safeguard Internet communication against U.S. snooping.

A vacation Bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and Ranjan Gogoi dismissed the plea of the former dean of Faculty of Law of Delhi University, S.N. Singh, observing that it could not entertain the public interest writ petition as no Indian agency was involved in snooping.

The Bench asked the petitioner to move any other forum for enforcing his right to privacy. He “may have right to privacy against foreign companies but this right is not covered under Article 21 of the Constitution.”

The judges said the court could not direct Parliament to enact a law to safeguard privacy of citizens against snooping.

Prof. Singh said the government’s sensitive Internet communication “is ‘Record’ as per the provisions of the Public Records Act,” and its secrecy should be maintained as per the Official Secrets Act. Internet communication was being kept outside India in U.S. servers which were unlawfully intruded upon by U.S. intelligence agencies under a secret surveillance programme, PRISM.

The petitioner said millions of Indians used the services of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Skype, Paltalk, AOL and Apple by way of emails, videos, communications, etc. through digital contracts signed with such Internet companies, “which are under obligation to ensure the privacy of data, which cannot be shared with third parties without the express consent of the Indian users.”

The petitioner pointed out that Edward Snowden, who had worked with the NSA in the U.S., said technology companies, claiming ignorance of the U.S. surveillance programmes, were misleading people and they allowed the NSA direct access to their servers and user data.

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