The Congress on Thursday hailed the Supreme Court verdict declaring privacy a Fundamental Right as a 'landmark judgment' and said it was a blow to 'fascist forces' and the 'unbridled encroachment and surveillance' by the State in the common man's life.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi said the verdict on Thursday heralded a new era for individual rights and human dignity, while party vice president Rahul Gandhi said it was a rejection of the Bharatiya Janata Party's ideology of 'suppression through surveillance'.
At the party's media briefing in New Delhi, senior spokesperson P Chidambaram said the judges' unanimous verdict was a setback to the Centre which said in court that there could be no fundamental right to privacy.
Welcoming the judgment, the Congress president said the party and its governments, along with the rest of the Opposition, stood together in court and in Parliament in speaking out for the right and against what she called the 'arrogant attempts' of the Centre to curtail it.
'The Supreme Court judgement... heralds a new era for individual rights, personal liberty and human dignity. It strikes a blow on the unbridled encroachment and surveillance by the state and its agencies in the life of the common man,' she said in a statement.
Rahul said the judgment was a 'victory for every Indian'.
'Welcome the SC verdict upholding right to privacy as an intrinsic part of individual's liberty, freedom and dignity. The SC decision marks a major blow to fascist forces,' he said on Twitter.
It was a 'sound rejection' of the BJP's ideology of 'suppression through surveillance', he said.
Chidambaram believed the verdict would rank 'among the most important judgments delivered by the Supreme Court since the advent of the Constitution of India'.
"Privacy is at the core of personal liberty. In fact, privacy is an inalienable part of life itself. By virtue of the judgement, Article 21 has acquired new magnificence," he told reporters.
The former finance minister criticised the government's approach in its interpretation of Aadhaar under Article 21 -- on the protection of life and personal liberty -- and alleged its stand was 'inconsistent'.
He also said Aadhaar was conceived as an 'administrative tool' to ensure that the benefits of welfare schemes reached the targeted people and there were no leakages and falsification.
"But Aadhaar can't become a beyond-all, end-all of all administrative issues," he said.
The fault, he added, was not with the concept, but with the BJP government's 'use and misuse' of Aadhaar as a tool.
He said the government's approach to Aadhaar was 'totally inconsistent' with the previous United Progressive Alliance government's position, which was why challenges had risen.
Chidambaram said privacy was a fundamental right and 'the freedom that was won in 1947 has been enriched and enlarged'.
He said the Congress took pride in the Supreme Court's judgment that privacy was a fundamental right and not dependent on government benevolence.
"Today, we can once again celebrate our freedom. Tomorrow, there will be other challenges, other questions, and other attempts to invade the right to privacy. We shall overcome those challenges too," he said.
Aadhaar, as conceived by UPA, posed no challenge to the right to privacy, he stressed.
"It is the Modi government's implementation that does."
Chidambaram said there was nothing wrong in distributing Aadhaar cards or in asking citizens to apply for such cards.
Asked whether the verdict would have an effect on issues such as Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises homosexuality, he said the section was rightly struck down by the Delhi high court but (the order) was reversed by the Supreme Court.
"In the light of this judgment, it should be possible to ask the Supreme Court to take a second look at that judgment. I think many questions will arise now. There are issues about data protection, dangers of data colonisation, and the nature of data transfer," he said.
Congress's media department in-charge Randeep Surjewala said the Supreme Court had stopped the BJP government, which 'tried to turn India into a police state', in its tracks.
He described the verdict as the 'dawn of a new freedom' and a 'decisive defeat' for the BJP government.
It was a blow to 'the creeping advances of those who want to convert India into a fascist police state', he said, adding that the 'conspiracy has been nipped in the bud'.
He called it a 'great victory' for liberty and freedom.
"The Court rejects Modi government's attempt to whittle down the right to privacy as a fundamental right," he said.
Former Law Minister Ashwani Kumar said the Court had vindicated 'constitutional conscience' and validated yet again its role as 'the guardian of our constitutional rights'.
"The right to privacy has finally been recognised as part of man’s 'inviolate personality' and as a right that is inherent and inalienable to human personality," Kumar said.
Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal said the government was 'ill-advised' in opposing the demand to declare right to privacy as a Fundamental Right in the Supreme Court.
Sibal, who as a senior advocate appeared for non-BJP ruled states in opposing the government's stand in the apex court, said 'this failure of the government reflects its narrow-mindedness on issues relating to individual freedom'.
"Individual house, marriages, sexual orientation, right to space, right to move freely, right to eat what an individual likes, right to be left alone are protected both within the home and at public places to the extent necessary," Sibal said.
While dubbing judgment as 'historic', 'progressive' and 'seminal', the senior Congress leader, who was also a law minister during the previous United Progressive Alliance regime, said 'the right to privacy protects individuals' inalienable right to protection'.
He stressed that the right to privacy is seeded in several articles of Part III of the Constitution and cautioned the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre that it should not in anyway compromise with the privacy of citizens in implementation of the Aadhaar scheme.
"Apart from this, data relating to the individual also needs protection and it is the legitimate expectation of individuals parting with their data to secure that protection. The state needs to frame data protection law to ensure legitimate expectation of individuals," he said.
He said the Constitution recognises that law cannot be static and communication revolution and advances in technology required court to look at privacy and recognise its importance in modern world.
"(The) government of India was ill-advised to oppose this right to privacy for the reasons that today more than anytime in the past, the individual's privacy need to be protected but no right is absolute," Sibal said.
He said, "To pass the test of privacy, any law framed must be constitutionally valid. It must be need-based and it must be proportionate to the abridgement sought to the right to privacy consistent with actual need."
'Ruling should protect misuse of private data'
Welcoming the judgment, the Communist Party of India-Marxist expressed hope that it would protect the misuse of private data in a world 'dominated by corporates'.
'The Politburo welcomes the Supreme Court verdict...this landmark judgment should pave the way to protect, in this world of technology advance dominated by corporates, misuse of private data and infringing upon the privacy of individuals,' the Left party said in a statement.