WHEN a nine-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court declared the right to privacy a fundamental right in 2017, also acknowledged was the right to be forgotten — to be weighed against other fundamental rights and larger public interests. Humans forget, the Internet does not, and does not let humans forget, Justice SK Kaul noted then, ruling that the right of an individual to exercise control over personal data and to be able to control his or her life would also encompass the right to control his or her existence on the Internet. The judgment has prompted petitions seeking removal of information in exercise of the right to be left alone. With the direction last week to its registry to work out a mechanism so that details of a couple embroiled in a bitter marital dispute can be removed from search engines, the apex court has augmented the right to be forgotten as a facet of the right to privacy, and rightly so.
The proliferation of social media has blurred the boundaries of privacy, turning the protection of individual autonomy and personal dignity into a near-impossible task. In the landmark verdict five years ago, Justice Nariman recognised the concept of informational privacy, and Justice Kaul the new threats in an age of digital footprints. Various high courts have since considered the issue by admitting pleas, serving notices, and even passing directions such as by the Delhi High Court to take down objectionable videos of a woman actor. At the same time, another Bench laid emphasis on the case peculiarities, observing that the right to be forgotten depends on how far it has to be stretched, alluding to the possibility of people convicted of defrauding banks pleading for removal of the judgment from the public domain.
The right to be forgotten, also known as the right to erasure, was established in the European Union in 2014. In India, the Personal Data Protection Bill provides for a mechanism to implement this concept, though it is by no means an absolute right. Such a law will go a long way in addressing genuine cases, but only with sound evaluation guidelines in place.
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