Order to install CCTVs in spas is against SC verdict on Right to Privacy: HC judge

‘It would unquestionably infract upon a person’s bodily autonomy’

Published - January 05, 2022 12:27 am IST - Madurai

Justice G.R. Swaminathan of the Madras High Court has said that a recent order passed by another judge of the same court, mandating the installation of CCTV cameras inside spas [massage and therapy centres], appears to run counter to the law laid down by the Supreme Court in the landmark Justice K.S. Puttaswamy case on the Right to Privacy.

Justice Swaminathan observed that Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees the fundamental right to privacy to all. “Through a unanimous verdict, the Supreme Court declared that the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed in Article 21 also includes implicitly a right to privacy. This right to privacy is seen as possessing both inherent value, in that it is important for every person’s basic dignity, and instrumental value, in that it furthers a person’s ability to live life free of interference,” the judge said. “The Court held that privacy as guaranteed in Article 21 takes several different forms — It includes a right to bodily autonomy, a right to informational privacy and a right to a privacy of choice. The installation of CCTV equipment inside premises such as a spa would unquestionably infract upon a person’s bodily autonomy. These are inviolable spaces where the prying eye of the State cannot be allowed to enter,” he said.

He noted that the other judge’s order directed the installation of CCTV cameras not in public spaces, but in “intimate, private spaces”. In the first place, unless a legislature mandates by law that CCTV cameras ought to be installed in a certain space, to do so would violate Article 21, he said. No right can be absolute. But restrictions can be put in place only by the legislature or the executive. The reach of the fundamental rights cannot be curtailed by any judicial measure. The Supreme Court alone can do so in exercise of its power under Article 142, the judge said.

Taking note of the fact that a notification was issued by the government that contemplates the installation of CCTV cameras only at entry and exit points, the judge said it consciously caveats that this would be without prejudice to the individual’s privacy. “Thus, the executive, while enacting subordinate legislation, has been conscious of the privacy concerns of the citizens. Suspicion that immoral activities are taking place in massage centres cannot be a reason enough to intrude into an individual’s right to relax, for it intrinsically is part and parcel of his fundamental right to privacy,” he said.

The court was hearing a petition filed by Payel Biswas, a spa owner from Tiruchi. The petitioner sought a direction to the police to issue a no-objection certificate for running the spa. The court directed the Tiruchi Commissioner of Police to consider the representation within four weeks.

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