Indian court's privacy ruling is blow to govt

The court ordered that two earlier rulings by large benches that said privacy was not fundamental in 1954 and 1962.

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NEW DELHI/MUMBAI - India's top court unanimously ruled on Thursday that individual privacy is a fundamental right, a verdict that will impact everything from the way companies handle personal data to the roll-out of the world's largest biometric ID card programme.

A nine-member bench of India's Supreme Court announced the ruling in a major setback for the Narendra Modi-led government, which argued that privacy was not a fundamental right protected by the Constitution.

The court ordered that two earlier rulings by large benches that said privacy was not fundamental in 1954 and 1962 now stood overruled, and it declared privacy was "an intrinsic part of the right to life and liberty" and "part of the freedoms guaranteed" by the Constitution.

"This is a blow to the government because the government had argued that people don't have a right to privacy," said Prashant Bhushan, a senior lawyer involved in the case.

Constitutional experts believe the judgment has a bearing on broader civil rights and a law that criminalizes homosexuality. Lawyers say the judgment will also have an impact on a ban on the consumption of beef in many states and alcohol in some states.

In his personal conclusion, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul wrote privacy is a fundamental right and it protects the inner sphere of an individual from interference from both state and non-state actors and lets individuals make autonomous life choices.

"The privacy of the home must protect the family, marriage, procreation and sexual orientation," Kaul wrote.