To be forgotten online is part of privacy: Justice Kaul

Justice Kaul said privacy in the digital age includes the "right to be forgotten".

Internet does not allow a person to overcome his past follies and turn a new leaf. A person's mistakes in his personal life becomes, and often remains, public knowledge for generations to come, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul observed on how the "permanency of Internet" is a violation of the fundamental right to privacy.

Justice Kaul said privacy in the digital age includes the "right to be forgotten". A person should be given a chance to take control over his private data online and re-claim his reputation by erasing certain personally embarassing footprints he had left on the Internet.

"The impact of the digital age results in information on the internet being permanent. Humans forget, but the Internet does not forget and does not let humans forget. Any endeavour to remove information from the internet does not result in its absolute obliteration. The foot prints remain. It is thus, said that in the digital world preservation is the norm and forgetting a struggle," Justice Kaul, in his separate but concurring judgment on the nine-judge Bench which declared privacy a fundamental right, observed.

Justice Kaul however adds the right to erase events or information online is not an absolute right.

"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. Needless to say that this would not be an absolute right.The existence of such a right does not imply that a criminal can obliterate his past, but that there are variant degrees of mistakes, small and big, and it cannot be said that a person should be profiled to the nth extent for all and sundry to know," Justice Kaul wrote.

He gives the example of a high school teacher who was sacked for her FB post “so not looking forward to another [school] year”. Another of a stewardess who posted suggestive pictures of herself in uniform.

These are the kind of footprints people would want to get rid off online. The right to erase such online material which would prompt the society to pass quick, often hypocritic judgments, about the character of a person is part of privacy.

"Privacy nurtures ability and removes the shackles of unadvisable things which may have been done in the past... People change and an individual should be able to determine the path of his life and not be stuck only on a path of which he/she treaded initially," Justice Kaul observed.

"Children around the world create perpetual digital footprints on social network websites on a 24/7 basis as they learn their ‘ABCs’: Apple, Bluetooth, and Chat followed by Download, E-Mail, Facebook, Google, Hotmail, and Instagram.They should not be subjected to the consequences of their childish mistakes and naivety, their entire life," Justice Kaul observed.

Michel ColaciComment