Karnataka High Court: While deciding the instant petition wherein the Bench of M. Nagaprasanna, J., was deliberating over a challenge to the order passed by the Family Court whereby mobile tower record details of the petitioner’s mobile number were called for; the Court held informational privacy also forms an integral part of right to privacy, therefore, the order which directs tower details of the petitioner to be placed before the Court in a proceeding, which he is not even a party, undoubtedly violates informational privacy. It was further held that a third party’s privacy cannot be permitted to be violated on the specious plea of the husband that he wants to prove illicit relationship between the petitioner and the wife.
Facts and the Intertwined Legal Trajectory of the Case: Three parties are the ‘protagonists’ on this case- a husband, wife and the petitioner whom the husband alleges to be his wife’s paramour. The husband and the wife have an ongoing dispute, with the wife already seeking annulment of marriage on grounds of cruelty, which is still pending.
During the afore-stated annulment proceedings in 2018, the husband filed an application seeking call record details of the wife and that of the petitioner on the ground that, the wife and the petitioner are in an illicit relationship which is chief cause of the wife’s demand for annulment. The husband’s application was allowed ensuing an objection filed by the wife in return.
The wife sought a detailed review of the order calling for the petitioner’s call records before the High Court. This time, the husband filed an objection stating that, contending that mobile number and call record details are absolutely necessary to demonstrate the alleged illicit relationship between the wife and the petitioner, which is coming in the way of a happy marriage and is corrupting the innocence and moral values of his minor child.
Upon consideration, the High Court reasoned that the husband is not seeking summoning of conversation through calls, SMS chats but he is only seeking tower location details for adjudication of the case in accordance with law. Therefore, directions were issued to the Regional Manager, Bharti Airtel Ltd. to place the tower location details only.
The petitioner thus filed the instant petition, contending that he is a third party as he is not a party to the annulment proceedings and that his right to privacy is violated by the order seeking his mobile tower record details.
Contentions: The counsel appearing for the husband contended that he wants his wife back in his life as there is a child born from the wedlock whose future is in jeopardy due to the act of the wife in having an illicit relationship with the petitioner.
The Court’s Consideration and Decision: With the facts thus laid bare, the Court considered that the afore-stated impugned order, whether it violates the petitioner’s right to privacy as it has been alleged by him.
The Court observed that the petitioner is a third party who is not at all involved in the divorce proceedings initiated by the wife.
Noting the contention presented by the husband, the Court pointed out that the husband should not have waited for four long years in preferring a petition seeking restitution of conjugal rights. “He wants to fight the matrimonial case instituted by the wife for divorce and does not want to file a case for restitution of conjugal rights”.
Observing that the only intention of the husband is to prove an illicit relationship hence the demand for mobile tower details, the Court held that the same cannot be permitted as divulging the mobile tower details would undoubtedly violate the petitioner’s privacy, who is not a party to the suit, who is not put on notice and whose defence is not permitted to be projected even.
The Court pointed out that the petitioner vis–vis his alleged relationship with the wife comes into picture of the annulment proceedings for the first time when the impugned order is issued. The Court stated that it is trite that right to privacy is implicit in the right to life and liberty guaranteed to the citizens under Art. 21 of the Constitution. It is a right to be ‘let alone’. A citizen has a right to safeguard the privacy of his own, his family, marriage and other incidental relationships.
Stating that the wife, who is party to the proceedings, has instituted divorce case, her acceptance or otherwise, cannot bind the petitioner, the Court while allowing the instant petition, quashed the impugned order of the Family Court.
[Vishwas Shetty v. Preethi K. Rao, 2022 SCC OnLine Kar 1597, decided on 30-11-2022]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
Petitioner- Manmohan P.N.;
Respondent- N. Gowtham Raghunath for R1; Arun Govindraj for the R2.
*Sucheta Sarkar, Editorial Assistant has prepared this brief.