Privacy Violation by Press – UPSC Ethics

In your opinion, what is the meaning of privacy? Do you think the press should be allowed to publish private details of an individual, especially of a public personality? How does the government in India deal with the privacy of individuals? Critically comment. (250 Words)

Privacy refers to a sphere of an individual which consists of personal choices, relationships, preferences and other private affairs and interests. As opposed to the public sphere, the access to this space is (and ought to be) at the discretion of the individual. It can mean to include the following:
  1. Spatial control: control over the private space of the individual.
  2. Decisional autonomy: This means the ability to make choices such as reproductive choices, voting, faith among others.
  3. Information control: The non-violability of personal information – financial, personal, marital / extra-marital, health, communications, movements etc. In the age of big data and state surveillance, this aspect is under threat and needs to be zealously guarded.
The press essentially is a medium of communication, information dissemination and opinion mobilization on public matters. Allowing it to publish private details of an individual cannot, in general, be allowed. However, if the publishing of such details leads to outcomes that are just and acceptable in law, these may be accepted on a case to case basis. For instance, publishing details of meetings between the head of a prosecuting agency and the culprits is definitely permissible since it helps bring out an unholy nexus with a potential to undermine justice. Nevertheless, it is important to have guidelines for the press. Such guidelines need not be imposed, but can be formulated by the press itself.
In India, there is no specific law that deals exclusively with right to privacy. It is contained in other statutes and interpretations of the fundamental right to freedom of expression. However, the Indian state has been accused of collecting data, tapping phones of political opponents and misusing agencies like IB in a manner that is violation of privacy. With jurisprudence evolving in the field, directions are also being laid out. For instance, the mandate that the permission of a high ranking police officer for phone tapping. Nevertheless, we are yet to treat privacy with the seriousness it deserves.



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