PUCL v. Union of India Revisited: Why India’s Surveillance Law Must Be Revised for the Digital Age
Volume 7 Issue 2 (2014)
The Supreme Court’s 1996 judgment in People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) v. Union of India was a significant attempt to solve the problem of widespread telephone tapping, and its influence has been strongly felt in subsequent laws designed to balance the right to privacy against the state’s power to conduct surveillance. The safeguards against arbitrariness in the exercise of the state’s surveillance powers designed by the Court continue to apply in the Internet age. However, new mass surveillance programs being undertaken by the Indian government that are unprecedented in their scope necessitate a thorough re-examination of our privacy laws. This note explains how the PUCL guidelines have influenced Indian surveillance law over the past two decades, the manner in which the safeguards designed by the Court have not always worked (or have been circumvented), and argues that with the Internet taking over the telephone as perhaps the most important mode of communication in India today, the time has come to revisit India’s surveillance laws to better protect the right to privacy.