Freedom of Opinion vs. Right to Privacy

Freedom of Opinion vs. Right to Privacy

In India, many cases have been filed demanding the urgency to eliminate the online anonymity by prescribing the mandatory linkage of email IDs with various Government ID proofs.  Different petitions have been filed to link social media accounts with that of Aadhar. All these linking of accounts are because the cyber crimes in India are increasing day by day. All the fake accounts made by the people are used to extort money, defame or exploit the other person.

In a recent development, the High Court of Delhi passed an interim ex-parte order asking a major social networking service, Instagram, to take down posts containing sexual harassment accusations. The right to privacy is an important aspect while dealing with online anonymity. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution deals with many aspects and the right to privacy is one of them. K.S. Puttuswamy vs. Union of India is an essential judgment that recognized the right to privacy as a fundamental right.

In this matter, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said that a straitjacket formula cannot be derived to deal with the issue of privacy. In order to judge the reasonableness of the restrictions, no general or fixed principle can be laid so as to be of universal application and the same will vary from case to case. During the proceedings of the matter, Justice asked, can an individual has the right to be anonymous and if yes, then up to what extent? To what extent you can hide your identity on account of the right to privacy?

The answers to these questions cannot be derived from a single matter or from a definite list of situations. Therefore, the judiciary rightly envisioned and said that guidelines will depend upon the case to case basis. Another issue of concern is that of contracts between individual subscribers and intermediaries, which are often devoid of the assurances of privacy.

Need to Strike a Balance

In India, the Information Technology Act, 2000 deals with the provision of cybercrime and its security. Section 69 of the IT Act empowers the law enforcement authority to intercept, monitor or decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in ‘any computer resource’ in the interests of public order. Section 79(3) of the same Act, an intermediary is bound to remove or block content on instructions by the appropriate authority or from the orders of the Court.

On one hand, the unmasking of the anonymity becomes unjust as in the case of sexual harassment where revealing the identity of the women will worsen the future circumstances for her. On the other hand, there is a pressing concern of misuse of online anonymity to inflict harm on others through defamatory posts, cyber abuse, etc.

To conclude, we can say that there is no hard and fast formula to deal with the issue. A total ban on online anonymity will hinder the fundamental right of the right to privacy. Therefore, there should be some legal parameters to strike a balance between the right to privacy and freedom of speech and expression.

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