Privacy is derived from the word “private”, which is an antonym of the word “public.” There has always been a conflict between the society and the individual, so much so that some thoughts in sociology even consider privacy a disease. Though, obviously, such thoughts are corrupt because privacy is an essential ingredient of the personal liberty of an individual, and no privacy means slavery.
The definition of privacy is easy and clear: All power with respect to the private information of an individual should remain with the individual subject to the norms of the society. Some of these norms are indeed set up by the powerful individuals, who use society as a medium to further their self interests. However, other norms are set up genuinely by the society, and one such norm is to not to allow complete privacy to individuals. No individual can exist in a society unless at least he discloses his identity to the society; so, some of his personal details like name, sex, age, etc., can never remain private. However, if an individual is a public figure or is involved in some public duty or is active in a public space/forum, he needs to disclose a lot more (a person active on a public street can hardly claim privacy from disclosure of his identity and acts; however, at the same time, nobody can disclose the identity of a pardanasheen though can disclose the acts), and if an individual fails to disclose appropriate information, the society find out ways to gather the same.
It may often happen that the same means are used by the society to gather both appropriate and inappropriate information: “sting operation” is one such means. So, the word “appropriate” becomes very important. There are some interest groups that consider the knowledge of private sex lives of individuals as appropriate public information, especially if the individual concerned is a public figure or is involved in some public duty. For example, some people in the Aligarh Muslim University consider the private sex life of their teacher as appropriate public information; yet some others elsewhere consider the sexual adventures of the movie stars, the religious gurus and the politicians as appropriate public information. It is hardly a debatable question whether society approves of it; at least the law doesn’t, which means even the society doesn’t: Under section 294 IPC, an obscene act in a public place is an offense, which obviously includes sexual intercourse in a public place. BTW, as per law, a public place means any place frequented by public, irrespective of whether the place is a private property or a public property; and “public” means any class of public or community: Even a single person can form a class, for example “the President of India”. So, how can the law allow public display of the private sex life of an individual? Rather, the strictest punishment possible should be awarded under section 294 IPC to those who indulge in such public exhibition of sex lives of individuals. However, I know there is hardly any punishment that can be awarded under section 294 IPC; so, what we need is a strict comprehensive privacy law, in which the infringement of privacy is considered an offence, and the strictest punishments possible are provided for.
However, at the same time, some “sting operations” have served useful purpose. The public disclosure of the illegal acts of the public servants in contradiction to their well laid out public duties is definitely beneficial to the society. A politician or a bureaucrat caught accepting bribe doesn’t call for any privacy. Moreover, the recording of these acts and making them public thereof doesn’t infringe anybody’s privacy. As per the law laid down by the Supreme Court in Rajagopal v. State of Tamilnadu, a public servant has no right to privacy for the acts done in discharge of his public duties. So, if I record and make public my conversation with a public servant in which he demands bribe for discharging his public duty, I don’t infringe his privacy as I only intended to record his public acts in the discharge of his public duties.
Thus, there is no dilemma between “sting operations” and privacy. Both can co-exist except that those carrying out these “sting operations” will have to stop calling them that when they don’t infringe anybody’s privacy; and, when they do, they should anyways be banned. In other words, the word “sting” should be banned.
(This post was first published in 2010; it has been republished under appropriate categorization.)
© 2010-2017 Ankur Mutreja