Explained | Right to be Forgotten in India

Right to be Forgotten

Last week, the Centre told the Delhi High Court that the “right to be forgotten” is part of the fundamental right to privacy, but added it has no important role to play in the matter. Petitions across courts have been seeking enforcement of this “right” but a legal principle that is not yet backed by statute in India.

The right to be forgotten is the right to have private information about a person be removed from Internet searches and other directories under some circumstances. While the right is not recognised by law in India, courts in recent months have held it to be an intrinsic part of the right to privacy. At least eight petitions are pending before Delhi High Court seeking removal of private information from the Internet, court records of previous convictions and proceedings, and news reports of past events. Only a few have been able to get that relief from courts so far.

On December 11,2019 Ravi Shankar Prasad of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, introduced The Personal Data protection bill to the Lok Sabha. This Bill is not yet passed in the Parliament. The main objective of the Personal Data Protection Bill is to protect an individual’s privacy, relating to their personal data. Under the Personal Data Protection Bill, Chapter 5 talks about Right of Data Principal.

In this chapter, clause 20 mentions the Right to be Forgotten.

Clause 20 (l) states that: the Data principal (the person to whom the data is related) shall have the right to restrict or prevent the continuing disclosure of his personal data by data fiduciary. Hence, under the Right to be Forgotten, the users can delink, delete, or correct an individual’s personal information.

Right to be Forgotten is related to Article 21 of the Constitution Article 21 is the fundamental right in the Indian Constitution and is the most valuable right. It states that No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.

  1. In Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr. vs Union of India, the Supreme Court held that the Right to Privacy is a fundamental right and it will be included in the Right to Life enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court observed that: the right of an individual to exercise control over his personal data and to be able to control his/her own life would also encompass his right to control his existence on the Internet.
  2. In Zulfiqar Ahman Khan v. M/S Quintillion Business Media Pvt. Ltd. And others, Zulfiqar Ahman Khan demanded for the removal of articles written against him in news website The Quint. The Delhi High Court observed the Right to be Forgotten and the right to be left alone as an integral part of individual’s existence.
  3. In the recent 2021 case, Jorawer Singh Mundy v. Union of India and Ors.,[4] the High Court of Delhi, directed Google to remove the verdict acquitting man in drug case as it affected his job prospects.
  4. In the case, Dharmaraj Banu Shankar Dave v. State of Gujarat,[5] Dharmaraj Banu Shankar Dave was acquitted in a kidnapping and murder case and demanded that the judgments regarding his case to not be available publicly.
  5. Gujarat High Court rejected the demand of The Right to be Forgotten. In the case, X vs. Registrar General, Karnataka High Court recognised the Right to be Forgotten in heinous crime committed against a woman. The court stated that: If the right to be forgotten is not recognised in matters like the present one, any accused will surreptitiously outrage the modesty of the woman and misuse the same in the cyber space unhindered.
  6. In Subranshu Raot v. State of Odisha,[7] the Orissa High Court examined the Right to be Forgotten as a remedy for the victims of sexually explicit videos or photos often posted on social media for harassing the victims.
  7. In State of Punjab v. Gurmeet Singh and Ors,[8] the Supreme Court has held that anonymity can help protect victims of sexual offence from social ostracism.

Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution provides for the Right to Speech and Expression. This right is subject to reasonable restrictions in Article 19 (2) of the Constitution. My suggestion is that there should be an Amendment through which the Right to Privacy must be included in Article 19 (2) of the Constitution.

In India, currently, there is no law that specifically provides the Right to be Forgotten. On one hand, if the past acts of an individual are posted on the internet, then the public will have easy access to read/view those erroneous acts and will judge that person based on his past acts. This can cause psychological and emotional suffering to the individual as it can affect his present life.

But on the other hand, the freedom of speech and expressions of the citizens will get limited and it will cause disarray in journalism. The right to be forgotten thus is a very complex issue as it brings uncertainty between the right to privacy and the right to free speech and expression

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