India Supreme Court rules privacy a 'fundamental right' in landmark case

Story highlights

  • Nine-member Supreme Court rule in favor of right to privacy
  • Landmark judgment could have implications for country's biometric identity card scheme

New Delhi (CNN)In a sign of the digital times we live in, India's top court found itself deliberating a fittingly new-age question: Is privacy a fundamental legal right for 1.34 billion people?

The answer is yes.
On Thursday in the Indian capital, a rare nine-member bench of the Supreme Court issued a historic ruling with potentially widespread consequences, decreeing that a right to privacy is part of the fundamental rights to life and liberty enshrined in the country's constitution.
    The heated and politicized court case -- which pitted rights activists against the government of India -- could have implications for the country's biometric identification program known as Aadhaar.
    On one side, the petitioners said the fingerprints and retinal scans collected under Aadhaar violated an individual's right to privacy. Lawyers representing the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi countered that India's constitution did not recognize a fundamental right to privacy.
    The court's ruling is a rebuke of the government's stance.
    Rights activists were quick to rejoice.
    "This is not just a legal victory. It is a moral victory," said Nikhil Pahwa, the co-founder of the Internet Freedom Foundation, and also the founder of the technology site Medianama.

    Highly politicized

    While Thursday's ruling did not directly comment on Aadhaar, it in effect cleared the way for further deliberations on the scope of the government's program.
    A separate Supreme Court bench is expected to weigh in on Aadhaar at a later stage. Those deliberations could take several months or even years.
    More than a billion Indians have so far been registered in the Aadhaar identity program, which sees citizens issued with a 12-digit number that aligns to specific biometric data such as eye scans and fingerprints.
    Thursday's ruling quickly became politicized. As journalists and analysts scrambled to make sense of the ruling's impacts, a rapid thrust-and-parry was playing out on social m