ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Four Parts of Privacy in India

Privacy enjoys an abundance of meanings. It is claimed in diverse situations every day by everyone against other people, society and the state. Traditionally traced to classical liberalism's public-private divide, there are now several theoretical conceptions of privacy that collaborate and sometimes contend. Indian privacy law is evolving in response to four types of privacy claims: against the press, against state surveillance, for decisional autonomy and in relation to personal information. The Supreme Court has selectively borrowed competing foreign privacy norms, primarily American, to create an unconvincing pastiche of privacy law in India. These developments are undermined by a lack of theoretical clarity and the continuing tension between individual freedoms and communitarian values.

In a celebrated paper in 2006, a leading privacy law expert invoked the despair of God who, like the playwright in Jorge Luis Borges’ story “Everything and Nothing,” invests the world with a diversity of meanings but lacks one himself (Borges 1985). Privacy, he contends, is similarly amorphous with several connotations but no exact meaning (Solove 2006). Likening the world to a play is not new (Shakespeare 1603), but Borges’ playwright was also bemoaning a lack of personal depth when compared to his literary characters. It is true privacy defies definition, but it certainly does not want for depth. There are several theoretical conceptions of privacy, some with rich philosophical and juridical histories. This article will briefly visit a few such conceptions before reviewing four contemporary elements of privacy in India that are influencing the evolution of privacy law.

Privacy in Everyday Life

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