Challenges to incursions on privacy

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Dear Editor,

I read the article on data privacy in the banking sector (Banking on secrecy) in the April issue of India Business Law Journal with interest. I was struck by the fact that the Reserve Bank of India’s Charter of Customer Rights describes the right to privacy as a basic right, yet customers continue to be routinely asked for information which may or may not be necessary, with questions remaining about how the information is stored.

In this context perhaps your readers will be interested in the legal challenge that is currently being mounted against recent legislation – introduced controversially as part of the Finance Bill – which makes it mandatory for individuals to quote a unique identification number, or Aadhar number, while filing income tax returns.

Two writ petitions against this linking of the unique identification number and income tax details are currently being heard in the Supreme Court. During the hearings, senior advocate Shyam Divan argued that a provision cannot be “engrafted” into the Income Tax Act making the Aadhaar card mandatory when the Aadhaar Act itself makes Aadhaar purely voluntary. More dramatically, Divan has argued that forcing a person to provide biometric details is an intrusion of the person’s body and no other state anywhere in the world has a system that tracks individuals in this manner.

While the outcome of these petitions is unknown, what is clear is that privacy is a subject which will continue to be debated for some time.

As your article says, it may be time to bring confidentiality and data privacy issues under an overarching umbrella regulation that can address this issue in the context of rapid developments in cyberspace and the vulnerabilities that aspects such as cyber hacking and identity theft pose. But then that is assuming the regulation can be trusted to provide an acceptable degree of privacy.

A reader
Bengaluru

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