In a recent development at the Kerala High Court, a petition was considered, highlighting the plea of individuals identified as the first and second accused in a previously settled criminal case. The petitioners, whose case was resolved amicably between the involved parties, brought attention to their concern regarding the public availability of court judgments mentioning their names on various online platforms, including the High Court’s website and Indian Kanoon.
The individuals alleged that despite the court’s 2012 judgment quashing the First Information Report (FIR) against them, their identities continued to be visible in the judgment documents accessible on digital platforms. Citing this exposure as a violation of their right to privacy and right to live with dignity, they sought recourse.
Justice Devan Ramachandran issued notices, demanding responses from the Kerala High Court administration, Indian Kanoon, and Google India. The respondents listed included the Registrar General of the High Court of Kerala, Registrar of Grievance Redressal (Appellate) Authority (Privacy of Parties) of the High Court of Kerala, Indian Kanoon, and Google India.
The petitioners expressed dissatisfaction with the persistence of their identities in the judgment despite the FIR’s quashing, emphasizing the adverse impact on their social well-being and right to live with dignity. They contended that the retention of their identities in perpetuity served no public interest and was contrary to their right to be forgotten.
Drawing upon legal precedents, the petitioners referenced a Division bench decision in Vyskh K.G. v Union of India (2023) where the Court permitted masking parties’ names in family and matrimonial cases, asserting the right to be forgotten. They also highlighted the recognition of the right to be forgotten and the right to privacy by the Delhi High Court in Zulfiqar Ahmad Khan v. Quintillion Business Media (P) Ltd. (2019).
The petitioners made representations to Indian Kanoon and the High Court administration, urging the masking of their Identities, but their requests were rejected. Indian Kanoon cited its website policy as grounds for refusal, while the High Court registry dismissed their plea, directing them to seek judicial remedy for name masking.
Highlighting the impact on their social and familial privacy, the petitioners emphasized the adverse effects of their identities being accessible in the judgment on various digital platforms without protective measures.
In their plea, the petitioners sought the removal of their identities from the judgment documents available on the High Court’s website and Indian Kanoon.
The petition, moved by Petitioner Advocates Raghul Sudheesh, J. Lakshmi, Elizabeth Mathew, Bini Das, Dharsana A., and Aravind Sankar, bears the case number WP © No. 39389/2023.
The “right to be forgotten” refers to an individual’s right to request the removal, deletion, or non-disclosure of certain personal information from public sources, especially online platforms, to protect their privacy, dignity, and personal autonomy. In the context of the Indian Constitution, while the explicit phrase “right to be forgotten” is not expressly mentioned, certain fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution support aspects of this concept:
Right to Privacy- The right to privacy is considered an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court, in landmark judgments such as the Puttaswamy case (2017), recognized privacy as a fundamental right encompassing informational privacy. This includes the right to control one’s personal information and the discretion to limit its dissemination, aligning with the essence of the right to be forgotten.
Article 19 (1) (a) – Freedom of Speech and Expression: While Article 19(1)(a) protects the freedom of speech and expression, it also carries limitations to safeguard an individual’s privacy and reputation. The right to be forgotten intersects with these limitations, allowing individuals to seek the removal of certain information that may infringe upon their privacy rights, especially when it becomes irrelevant or outdated.
The case raises pertinent questions about the balance between the public’s right to information and an individual’s right to privacy and dignity. It brings to light the evolving discourse on the right to be forgotten in the digital age and the implications of retaining sensitive personal information in publicly accessible legal documents.
The court’s decision In this case may set a significant precedent in defining the extent of an individual’s right to privacy concerning the digital dissemination of court judgments.