A historic judgment by India’s Supreme Court ruling that the right to privacy is part of the constitutional right to life and personal liberty could have far-reaching implications for human rights in the country, Amnesty International India said today.

“Millions of people can breathe a little easier today following the Supreme Court judgment,” said Asmita Basu, Programmes Director, Amnesty International India. “The right to privacy that the Court has defended today is essential to ensure individual autonomy, and is closely linked to the exercise of several other rights, from what people say online to who they love and what they eat.”

“This judgment can also ensure that people’s right to privacy is better protected from unjustified surveillance by state and non-state actors, and also that privacy concerns around the Aadhaar biometric card programme are addressed more effectively.”

A nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court overruled previous decisions that had stated that privacy is not a fundamental right under the Constitution of India. The ruling stated: “Privacy has both positive and negative content. The negative content restrains the state from committing an intrusion upon the life and personal liberty of a citizen. Its positive content imposes an obligation on the state to take all necessary measures to protect the privacy of the individual.”

It also stated: “The right of privacy is a right which protects the inner sphere of the individual from interference from both State, and non-State actors and allows the individuals to make autonomous life choices…In an era where there are wide, varied, social and cultural norms and more so in a country like ours which prides itself on its diversity, privacy is one of the most important rights.”

The judgment also underlined India’s commitments under international law to protect the right to privacy, including Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a state party. It stated: “The recognition of privacy as a fundamental constitutional value is part of India’s commitment to a global human rights regime.” Under international human rights law, any restrictions on the right to privacy must be necessary and proportionate to meet certain specified aims, such as public order and national security.