INSTALLATION of CCTV cameras in spas and massage parlours, on the basis of apprehension of immoral activity, is an “intrusion into the rights of individuals” and would amount to infringing their bodily autonomy, the Madras High Court has observed.
Justice G.R. Swaminathan of the Madurai bench of the high court made the observation on Tuesday while disposing of a petition from a spa owner seeking direction to the Tiruchirappalli police to issue a no objection certificate (NOC). He also wanted the high court to restrain the police from interfering with the running of the spa.
A 2010 notification by the Greater Chennai Municipal Corporation mandated cameras at the entry and exit points, without prejudice to an individual’s privacy, as a condition for grant of license by the police to massage/spa centres. However, in an order last month in another matter, another single judge bench of the Madras High Court had issued directions to the state government to order all spa and massage therapy centres in Tamil Nadu to install CCTV cameras, and ensure these centres conduct their business in a transparent manner and avoid secluded or closed rooms which might harbour illegal activities. It had also directed the police authorities to initiate appropriate legal action on the basis of “reasonable suspicion”.
Justice Swaminathan differed with the order, noting that installing CCTV cameras in the direct manner was a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution. He held that the order violated the three-fold requirement of legality, legitimate aim and proportionality for invading one’s privacy, as laid out by the Supreme Court in its landmark Puttaswamy judgment of 2017.
He further cautioned that restrictions on fundamental rights can only be put in place by the legislature or the executive, but not by any judicial measure. “The installation of CCTV equipment inside premises such as a spa would unquestionably infract upon a person’s bodily autonomy. These are inviolable spaces where the prying eye of the state simply cannot be allowed to enter,” the judge added. “Suspicion that immoral activities are taking place in massage centres cannot be reason enough to intrude into an individual’s right to relax for it intrinsically is part and parcel of his fundamental right to privacy,” the judge observed.
He also referred to a division bench judgment of the Madras High Court from August last year which held that the installation of CCTV cameras in the restroom and locker rooms of a workplace was not just objectionable, but impermissible, in light of Puttaswamy.
Justice Swaminathan called for privacy to be conceptualized as a social value, and as a goal of public policy, before directing the Trichy Commissioner of Police to dispose of the petitioner’s application for license and NOC for running his spa on merits within four weeks, and on occasion of grant of license, directed the police not to interfere with his business if he carried it out lawfully.