The Karnataka government recently allowed a woman to delete personal information from the internet. Suparv Ganguly, writes on what this could mean for the future of privacy laws in India.
Sometime in January this year, the Karnataka government made a one-of-a-kind ruling concerning a woman, whose father petitioned in court on her behalf to block her name in an earlier order passed by the high court. The woman was apprehensive that her name’s association with the matter would affect her relationship with her husband and also ruin her reputation.
The earlier case was against a man who she claimed not to be married to. The girl wanted her marriage certificate cancelled but sometime later, both the parties reached a consensus and went for an out of court settlement. The case was eventually withdrawn and the high court cancelled the complaint.
Perhaps the reason the court was so quick to act on her plea was because in the Indian context, where marriages are often arranged, such matters can become major social stigmas. Justice Anand Bypareddy clarified this when he stated, “this is in line with the trend in western countries of the ‘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.” Acting on her plea for the recognition of her ‘right to be forgotten’, the high court also told its registry, “it should be the endeavour of the registry to ensure that any internet search made in the public domain ought not to reflect the petitioner’s daughter’s name in the cause-title of the order or in the body of the order in the criminal petition.”
While the judgment is a landmark one in India, Argentina, the European Union and very recently, even Japan have had people file petitions for their specific personal history to be removed from the internet. This right is seen as serious personal right to privacy in these jurisdictions as it can have direct consequences on a person’s life and rob them of the right to live without perpetual stigma. The law was first proposed with guidelines in the EU in 2012 and was finally passed in 2014.
Since the name is ‘right to be forgotten’, a lot of people have been interpreting this as their right to completely remove all personal history and erase themselves from the internet. But that is gross oversimplification. It only pertains to information that is old, inaccurate, irrelevant and detrimental to your future. (Only in cases where the impact on your privacy is bigger than the public’s right to it) So if you’re a public figure, looking for a way out, forget about it. Chances are it is never going to happen. In India, even more so because unlike the EU, the country has no legal provisions for such rights. Both the Information Technology Act 2000 (amended 2008) and IT Rules, 2011 fail to mention the privacy rights of individuals on the internet. In fact, India is yet to have a privacy law, considering the Right to Information Act, it will be a tricky one to formulate but for now, the Karnataka High Court seems to have paved the way for time to come.