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  • Chitransh Shrivastava

Privacy on the Internet in India: Right to be Forgotten

Introduction

In today’s world, dissemination of information has become quite easy with the advancement of the internet. News spreads across entire world within minutes. Procuring personal information or past records about an individual is no longer a herculean task. This circulation of information in a way infringes a person’s right to privacy and it is time that Indian citizens need a “Right to be forgotten”.


The right to be forgotten was developed by European Court of Justice which is the highest judicial authority of the European Union in the landmark case of Google v. Mario Costeja[i] had ordered Google to remove the links related to Mario Costeja on its website and effectively read a “right to be forgotten” or “Right to delink” into existing EU data protection law. Right to delink broadly, provides that an individual may be allowed to control the information available about them on the web by removing such information in certain situations.


Need for a “Right to be forgotten”

When information is posted online, a single search by name can reveal information about a person which may or may not be true, which results in loss of reputation and being ostracized by the society. A good reputation is an element of personal security and is protected by the Constitution equally with the right to the enjoyment of life, liberty and property. Therefore, it has been held to be a necessary element in regard to right to life of a citizen under Article 21 of the Constitution.


Article 21 of the Indian constitution guarantees a person not just mere existence but right to live with human dignity. There exists a duty on citizens and functionaries not to interfere with the liberty of others, as everyone is entitled to the dignity of person and of reputation. Right to reputation is a well-established principal upheld by the constitution of India.


Justice Dipak Mishra in a recent judgment observed,[ii] “When reputation is hurt, a man is half-dead. It is an honour which deserves to be equally preserved by the down trodden and the privileged. The aroma of reputation is an excellence which cannot be allowed to be sullied with the passage of time. The memory of nobility no one would like to lose; none would conceive of it being atrophied. It is dear to life and on some occasions it is dearer than life. And that is why it has become an inseparable facet of Article 21 of the Constitution.”


In the case of Jammu and Kashmir and Ors. v. Bakshi Gulam Mohammad and Anr[iii],observed “an authority who takes a decision, which may have civil consequences and affects right of a person, the principle of natural justice would at once come into play. Reputation of an individual is an important part of one’s life.” In Smt. Kiran Bedi and Jinder Singh v. Committee of Inquiry and Anr,[iv] which passage contains the observations from an American decision in D.F.Marion V. Minnie Davis,[v]reads as follows: “The right to enjoyment of a private reputation, unassailed by malicious slander is of ancient origin, and is necessary to human society. A good reputation is an element of personal security and is protected by the Constitution equally with the right to the enjoyment of life, liberty and property.”


Changing Scope of Right to be Forgotten

Even though “Right to be forgotten” is not enshrined in Indian Constitution, the courts always supported the spirit behind the right to be forgotten. In The State of Punjab v. Gurmit Singh and others,[vi]while considering the anonymity of a rape victim the court has observed, “The Courts should, as far as possible, avoid disclosing the name of the prosecutrix in their orders to save further embarrassment to the victim of sex crime. The anonymity of the victim of the crime must be maintained as far as possible throughout. In the present case, the trial court has repeatedly used the name of the victim in its order under appeal, when it could have just referred to her as the prosecutrix.” Similarly in order to protect social ostracism and identity of a victim of a sexual offence, the Supreme Court chose to describe her as ‘victim’ in the judgment.[vii]


Conclusion

Needless to say, it is high time now that people need a right to privacy on the internet. If there is information about a person which he does not wishes anyone to see, he shall have a right to remove such information. Recently in an order, the high court of Karnataka upheld the right to be forgotten of a woman who wanted to hide her name from the Trial Court judgment. The court observed, “This would be in line with the trend in the Western countries where they follow this as a matter of rule “Right to be forgotten” in sensitive cases involving women in general and highly sensitive cases involving rape or affecting the modesty and reputation of the person concerned.[viii]

 

[i] C‑131/12

[ii] Om Prakash Chautala v. Kanwar Bhan and Ors (2014) 5 SCC 417

[iii] AIR 1967 SC p. 122

[iv] AIR 1989 SC p.714

[v] 55 American LR 171

[vi] 1996 AIR 1393

[vii] State Of Karnataka v. Puttaraja, AIR2004SC433

[viii] WRIT PETITION No.62038 OF 2016


By  Chitransh Shrivastava, VIT School of Law

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