Off the record

Protecting the right to privacy

OFFICIALS should not record telephonic conversations, says the recent judicial direction of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. While the direction pertains to interactions between court officials and judicial officers of the subordinate judiciary, and the provocation for it remains unclear, the principle behind it is laudable. The right to privacy has been the greatest victim of the electronic era, indeed with both public and private agencies infringing on individual rights. 

The notion of individual privacy is a diluted one in the Asian, including Indian, context; but that private conversations remain private is one of the bases of social interaction. However, with the profusion of methods available to record conversations, rising paranoia and willingness to flout social conventions, the notion of keeping something under wraps is antediluvian. Recorded conversations have affected many individuals, even nations, thanks to the likes of Wikileaks. They have a tremendous negative impact on social interaction as well as on the conduct of official business. As for the government, it abrogates unto itself the right to record. While this should only be done under proper administrative and judicial supervision, it seldom is. 

While the ambit of the judicial order is limited at present, there is a case to be made for it to be implemented on a wider scale. Indeed, there is no justification for various apps that allow phone conversations to be recorded unbeknown to either of the parties. Recordings made by such means have no sanctity under the law but have been used at times to damage the reputations of individuals. The conversation may not be presented in a proper context, or may be twisted in a particular manner — such considerations encourage trial by social media. A person is entitled to have a private conversation without fear of it being leaked or misused. As the court said, let what is private remain private. This should be valid for the public at large too.

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