Disclosure of Identity of Covid-19 Patients to be Subjected to Triple Test of Privacy: Orissa HC
While disposing off the matter, the court directed the State to ensure that identity of any person, who is admitted to Covid centres-any Government Hospital/private Hospital or any Quarantine centre in the State, found infected with Covid-19 is not disclosed/publicized either in any intradepartmental communication or in any media platform including social media.
The Petitioner had approached the High Court highlighting the devastating consequences that Covid patients had to face, including stigmatisation and threat to life. The court also noted that such disclosure of the identity of the infected persons, or those in quarantine, and their family member’s results in adding to their trauma and tribulations, at times even leading to ostracisation because of the stigma associated with the pandemic.
The Petitioner also gave instances where the Government of Orissa itself in one of the cases under Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation had disclosed the identity of a COVID-19 patient disregarding any norms prescribed. There was another incident where the identity of thirteen individuals was disclosed on WhatsApp in the district of Kendrapara by a third party, but no action was taken against the person.
While disposing the matter, the Court directed the State to ensure that identity of any person, who is admitted to Covid-centres, any Government Hospital/private Hospital, or any Quarantine centre in the State found, infected with Covid-19 is not disclosed/ publicized either in any intradepartmental communication or in any media platform including social media.
The learned Advocate General assured the Court that necessary steps shall be taken to ensure compliance of the guidelines issued by the Government.
The bench of Chief Justice Mohammad Rafiq and Justice S. Pujahari held that the State has to uphold the right to privacy of the patients by preserving their identities. While citing Rajagopal vs. State of Tamil Nadu, (1994) 6 SCC 632, the Court stated that the right to privacy is also implicit in the fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution, i.e., right to life and liberty though is not absolute.
The High Court cautioned the authorities to ensure that if they reveal the identity of a Covid patient/suspect, the disclosure should be done in accordance with the law, i.e., it should satisfy the 'Triple Test' as laid down by the Supreme Court in the right to privacy judgment of KS Puttaswamy&Anr. vs. Union of India &Ors.
The landmark judgment laid down a triple test that precisely drew a line between the fundamental Right to Privacy under Article 21 and the rights of State to interfere with it in public interest.
While suggesting a way to mask the identity of the patients, the court stated, "We hope and trust that the State shall take further steps if not already taken to keep the personal information masked by applying appropriate method if not there, such as, providing code number for keeping the details in anonymity and keep utmost confidentiality of such information in different intradepartmental communication."
Through this significant judgment, the Orissa High Court has cleared all confusion and has laid down the responsibilities of the state authorities and press in disclosing the identity of Covid19 patients.
Read the complete Judgement here
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