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The laws of breach of confidentiality and breach of privacy at first glance seem very similar to each other. If a doctor releases health information relating to a patient that s/he is treating then such an act would give rise to a claim both under the law of privacy as well as under the law of confidentiality.

Similar is the case with financial information released by a bank, etc. This makes one wonder exactly where and how it is that the law of breach of privacy intersects with that of the law of confidentiality. An enquiry into such a complex question of law requires a deeper appreciation of the relationship between these two different principles of law which require a better understanding of the origins and evolutions of these principles.

In this paper we shall try to explore the origins of both the law of privacy as well as confidentiality as they have evolved in the field of tort law in India. Although our primary focus is Indian law, however in order to understand the evolution of these principles it is necessary to discuss their evolution in three common law jurisdictions, viz. the United States of America, the United Kingdom and India. The reason for an analysis of these three jurisdictions will become clear as the reader goes further into this paper, however for ease of reference it would be better if the reason is clarified here itself. The concept of a right against breach of confidentiality has existed in English common law for a very long time, however the concept of a claim for breach of privacy originated only in American law, other than some statutory protection granted in the last couple of decades, has still not been granted recognition in English common law.

After a discussion of the evolution of these principles in both American and English law, we will then discuss these principles as they exist in Indian law. This discussion will (or should) at once become easier to understand and digest because of the deeper understanding of the interplay between these two principles gained from a reading of the first two chapters.

Privacy Torts: American Origins

Looking at the origins of privacy law it has been argued by many academics that the law of privacy in common law has its origins in an article published by Samuel Warren and Louis Brandies in the Harvard Law Review in 1890.[1] Warren and Brandeis suggested that one could generalise certain cases on defamation, breach of copyright in unpublished letters, trade secrets and breach of confidence as all based upon the protection of a common value which they called privacy.[2] The authors relied upon the existing body of cases relating to the law of confidentiality and interpreted it in a way so as to create a "right to privacy" which has evolved into a right quite different from the common understanding of confidentiality.

Although there are certain criticisms of the article by Warren and Brandeis, the background in which the article was written and the lacuna that these two scholars were trying to fill in the law of confidentiality as it existed at that time gives some context to the reasons why they felt the need to move away from the existing principles and propose a new principle of law. Samuel Warren and Louis Brandies were both worried about the invasion of personal space by the advent of the news and print media which was experiencing a boom during the late 19th century. [3] Warren and Brandeis were worried that although the existing body of law on confidentiality would protect a person from having their picture put on a postcard by their photographer without their consent,[4] however if there was no relationship between the two persons there would be no remedy available to the aggrieved party. [5]

One of the criticisms of Warren and Brandeis' article is that to propose the existence of a right to privacy they relied heavily on the English case of Prince Albert v. Strange[6]. It has been proposed by some academics that this was a case which dealt with confidentiality and literary property which was characterized by Warren and Brandeis as a privacy case. [7] In this case Prince Albert sought to restrain publication of otherwise unpublished private etchings and lists of works which were made by Queen Victoria. The etchings appeared to have been removed surreptitiously from the private printer to whom these etchings were given and came into the possession of one Mr. Strange who wanted to print and sell the etchings. The case specifically rejected the existence of a right to privacy in the following words:

"The case is not put by the Plaintiff on any principle of trust or contract, but on property; there is nothing to show contract or confidence. It cannot be maintained that privacy constitutes property, or that the Court will interfere to protect the owner in the enjoyment of it; Chadler v. Thompson (3 Camp. 80). In William Aldred's case (9 Rep. 58 b.), Wray C. J. said, "The law does not give an action for such things of delight"."

Infact the case mentioned the term "privacy" only once, but that statement was made in the context of whether a delay in granting an injunction in such cases would defeat the entire purpose of the suit and was not preceeded or followed by any discussion on a distinct right to privacy:

"In the present case, where privacy is the right invaded, postponing the injunction would be equivalent to denying it altogether. The interposition of this Court in these cases does not depend upon any legal right, and to be effectual, it must be immediate."

However, Warren and Brandeis interpreted this case in a different manner and came to the conclusion that the "principle which protects personal writings and all other personal productions, not against theft and physical appropriation, but against publication in any form, is in reality not the principle of private property, but that of an inviolate personality".[8]

The article further incorporated the language of Judge Cooley's treatise (Cooley on Torts)[9] which used the phrase "the right to be let alone". They said that identifying this common element should enable the courts to declare the existence of a general principle which protected a person's appearance, sayings, acts and personal relations from being exposed in public. [10] However it has been argued by some scholars that this phrase was not used by Judge Cooley with as much import as has been given by Warren and Brandeis in their article. The phrase was used by Judge Cooley in mere passing while discussing why tort law protected against not only batteries but also assaults with no physical contact, and had no connection with privacy rights. [11]

Warren and Brandeis' article started getting almost immediate attention and some amount of recognition from various quarters,[12] though it cannot be said that it was universally well received. [13] However over time this tort of privacy slowly started getting recognized by various Courts throughout the United States and got a huge boost when it was recognized in a brief section in the First Restatement of Torts published in 1939. The right to privacy in American jurisprudence got another boost and became fully entrenched later on specially with the endorsement of Dr. William Prosser who discussed privacy in his treatise on the law of torts, the subsequent editions of which had a more and more elaborate discussion of the tort of privacy. This development of the law was further enhanced by Dr. Prosser's position as a reporter of the Second Restatement of Torts, which imported a four part taxonomy of the privacy tort which had been suggested by Dr. Prosser in his previous works.[14]

Thus we see how, beginning with the article by Warren and Brandeis in 1890, the privacy tort in American jurisprudence developed over the years and became further entrenched due to the influence of William Prosser and his works on the tort of privacy.

Privacy Torts in England: An Elaborate Principle of Confidentiality

The law of confidentiality in English law, as applied in certain specific contexts such as attorney client privileges, [15] doctor patient confidentiality,[16] etc. has been applied since hundreds and even though cases relating to the breach of confidentiality had already existed, however the case of Prince Albert v. Strange,[17] be it due to the interesting facts or the fame of the parties involved, is still considered as the clearest and most well established precedent for the tort of breach of confidence.[18] Similar cases relying upon this tort kept being decided by the English Courts but the tort of confidentiality was further cemented in English common law by the case of Saltman Engineering Co. v. Campbell Engineering Co.,[19] which expanded the application of the principle by holding that the obligation to respect confidence is not limited to only instances where parties have a contractual relationship.

The seminal case on the tort of breach of confidentiality in English law was that of Coco v. A.N Clark (Engineers) Ltd., [20] where an inventor enjoined a moped manufacturer from using design ideas communicated by the inventor during failed contractual negotiations with the manufacturer.[21] In this case Megarry J., held that a case of breach of confidence normally requires three elements to succeed, apart from contract, (i) the information itself must have the necessary quality of confidence about it, (ii) that information must have been imparted in circumstances importing an obligation of confidence, and (iii) there must be an unauthorised use of that information to the detriment of the party communicating it.

Relying on the principles enunciated in the above cases and developed by subsequent decisions, English law relating to the tort of breach of confidentiality developed into a robust and flexible body of law protecting personal and commercial information from disclosure. Infact by the late 1990s, English law was very broad and gradually expanding in its scope of the tort of breach of confidentiality and Courts had stretched the idea of an obligation of confidence so as to include cases where there was not even any communication between the parties, such as secret photography and wiretapping. Further since third parties had already been reposed with an obligation of confidence when they knowingly received confidential material even if they did not have any relationship with the plaintiff, therefore the law of confidence could be extended to parties outside the relationship in which the confidence was initially made. This, although was not as broad and overarching as the American privacy tort, still had the ability to cover a wide range of cases. [22]

While English Courts on the one hand kept trying to expand the scope of the confidentiality tort, they also categorically rejected the existence of a privacy tort on the lines developed under American jurisprudence. The suggestion of the existence of such a privacy tort in English law was most recently rejected by the House of Lords in the case of Wainwright v. Home Office,[23] by Lord Bingham in the following words:

"What the courts have so far refused to do is to formulate a general principle of "invasion of privacy" (I use the quotation marks to signify doubt about what in such a context the expression would mean) from which the conditions of liability in the particular case can be deduced."

In this case the plaintiffs made a claim against the prison authorities for strip searching them before they went to meet an inmate and since the incident occurred before the coming into force of the Human Rights Act, 1998 of the UK had not yet come into force, so the plaintiffs also argued that there was an existing tortuous remedy based on a breach of privacy in common law. While discussing whether English Courts were amenable to or had ever recognized such a common law tort of privacy, the House of Lords cited decisions such as Malone v Metropolitan Police Comr, [24] and R v Khan (Sultan),[25] in both of which the courts refused to recognize a general right to privacy in the context of tapping of telephones.

The absence of any general cause of action for invasion of privacy was also acknowledged by the Court of Appeal in the context of a newspaper reporter and photographer invading into a patient's hospital bedroom in an effort to purportedly interview him and taking photographs, in the case of Kaye v Robertson.[26]

Thus relying on the above line of cases the House of Lords concluded that a general right to privacy does not exist in English common law:

"All three judgments are flat against a judicial power to declare the existence of a high-level right to privacy and I do not think that they suggest that the courts should do so. The members of the Court of Appeal certainly thought that it would be desirable if there was legislation to confer a right to protect the privacy of a person in the position of Mr Kaye against the kind of intrusion which he suffered, but they did not advocate any wider principle."

Thus it is clear that English Courts have time and again denied the existence of an American style right to privacy as emanating from common law. The Courts have instead tried to expand and widen the scope of the tort of confidentiality so as to cover various situations which may arise due to the pervasiveness of technology and which the traditional interpretation of the law of confidentiality was not equipped to deal with.

Therefore it is now a little clearer that the reason for the existence of the confusion between the torts of privacy and confidentiality is that the right to privacy had its origins in the common law precedents but the right to privacy developed as a distinct and separate right in America, primarily due to the influence of Warren and Brandeis's article as well as the works of William Prosser, whereas the Courts in England did not adopt this principle of privacy and instead favored a much more elaborate right to confidentiality. In the Indian context, this has led to some amount of confusion because, Indian case laws, as will be seen in the following chapter, borrowed heavily from American jurisprudence when discussing the right to privacy and not all cases have been able to clearly bring out the difference between the principles of privacy and confidentiality.

Indian Law

Tort of Breach of Privacy

Any analysis of the right to privacy in India, be it in the realm of constitutional law or tort law almost always includes within its ambit a discussion of the two celebrated cases of Kharak Singh v. Union of India[27] and Govind v. State of M.P.,[28] which elevated the right to privacy to the pedestal of a fundamental right under Indian law. However, an unintended consequence of this has been that pretty much every commentator on Indian law includes a discussion of these two cases when discussing the right to privacy, be it under constitutional law or under tort law. However, there is one problem with such an analysis of the right to privacy, viz. these two cases were dealing with a pure constitutional law question and relied upon American case laws to read into Article 21 an inbuilt right to privacy. However from a strictly tort law perspective, these cases are not relevant at all, and the seminal case for the tort of breach of privacy would have to be the Apex Court decision in R. Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu, [29] which specifically recognized this distinction and stated that the right to privacy has two different aspects, (i) the constitutional right to privacy, and (ii) the common law right to privacy.

The facts of the R. Rajagopal case revolve around the publishing of the autobiography written by the prisoner Auto Shankar, who had been placed in jail for committing multiple murders. The autobiography contained proof of involvement of many IAS, IPS officers in his crimes. Although Shankar had initially requested that the magazine print his autobiography, he later requested that his story not be published. The publishers held that it was their right to publish the autobiography while the IPS and IAS officers on the other hand claimed that Auto Shankar was trying to defame them and wanted to ban its publication. The Supreme Court in this case, implicitly accepts the existence of a right to privacy under Indian tort law when

"21.The question is how far the principles emerging from the United States and English decisions are relevant under our constitutional system. So far as the freedom of press is concerned, it flows from the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a). But the said right is subject to reasonable restrictions placed thereon by an existing law or a law made after the commencement of the Constitution in the interests of or in relation to the several matters set out therein. Decency and defamation are two of the grounds mentioned in clause (2). Law of torts providing for damages for invasion of the right to privacy and defamation and Sections 499/500 IPC are the existing laws saved under clause (2). "

Discussing the distinction between the two aspects of the right to privacy, the Court held:

"The right to privacy as an independent and distinctive concept originated in the field of Tort law, under which a new cause of action for damages resulting from unlawful invasion of privacy was recognized. This right has two aspects which are but two faces of the same coin (1) the general law of privacy which affords a tort action for damages resulting from an unlawful invasion of privacy and (2) the constitutional recognition given to the right to privacy which protects personal privacy against unlawful governmental invasion. The first aspect of this right must be said to have been violated where, for example, a person's name or likeness is used, without his consent, for advertising or non-advertising purposes or for that matter, his life story is written whether laudatory or otherwise and published without his consent as explained hereinafter. In recent times, however, this right has acquired a constitutional status."

After a discussion of the various arguments presented by the parties (a number of which are not relevant for the purposes of this paper), the Supreme Court laid down the following principles regarding freedom of the press and the right to privacy:

(1) The right to privacy is implicit in the right to life and liberty guaranteed to the citizens of this country by Article 21. It is a "right to be let alone". A citizen has a right to safeguard the privacy of his own, his family, marriage, procreation, motherhood, child-bearing and education among other matters. None can publish anything concerning the above matters without his consent whether truthful or otherwise and whether laudatory or critical. If he does so, he would be violating the right to privacy of the person concerned and would be liable in an action for damages. Position may, however, be different, if a person voluntarily thrusts himself into controversy or voluntarily invites or raises a controversy.

(2) The rule aforesaid is subject to the exception, that any publication concerning the aforesaid aspects becomes unobjectionable if such publication is based upon public records including court records. This is for the reason that once a matter becomes a matter of public record, the right to privacy no longer subsists and it becomes a legitimate subject for comment by press and media among others. We are, however, of the opinion that in the interests of decency [Article 19(2)] an exception must be carved out to this rule, viz., a female who is the victim of a sexual assault, kidnap, abduction or a like offence should not further be subjected to the indignity of her name and the incident being publicised in press/media.

(3) There is yet another exception to the rule in (1) above - indeed, this is not an exception but an independent rule. In the case of public officials, it is obvious, right to privacy, or for that matter, the remedy of action for damages is simply not available with respect to their acts and conduct relevant to the discharge of their official duties. This is so even where the publication is based upon facts and statements which are not true, unless the official establishes that the publication was made (by the defendant) with reckless disregard for truth. In such a case, it would be enough for the defendant (member of the press or media) to prove that he acted after a reasonable verification of the facts; it is not necessary for him to prove that what he has written is true. Of course, where the publication is proved to be false and actuated by malice or personal animosity, the defendant would have no defence and would be liable for damages. It is equally obvious that in matters not relevant to the discharge of his duties, the public official enjoys the same protection as any other citizen, as explained in (1) and (2) above. It needs no reiteration that judiciary, which is protected by the power to punish for contempt of court and Parliament and legislatures protected as their privileges are by Articles 105 and 104 respectively of the Constitution of India, represent exceptions to this rule."

The above principles have ruled the roost on the issue of privacy and freedom of the press under Indian law, with certain minimal additions. It has been held by the Delhi High Court that even though a claim for damages may be made under tort law for breach of privacy, the Court may even grant a pre-publication injunction to prevent a breach of privacy.[30] The principles laid down inR. Rajagopal were further clarified in the case of Indu Jain v. Forbes Incorporated, [31] where a case was filed by Indu Jain in the Delhi High Court to stop Forbes magazine from featuring her family in the Forbes List of Indian Billionaires. After a discussion of the various authorities and cases on the issue the Court summarized the principles relating to privacy and freedom of the press and applying those principles rejected the claim of the plaintiff. However for the purposes of our discussion these principles are extremely useful, and have been listed below:

"(V) Public or general interest in the matter published has to be more than mere idle curiosity.

(VI) Public figures like public officials play an influential role in ordering society. They have access to mass media communication both to influence the policy and to counter-criticism of their views and activities. The citizen has a legitimate and substantial interest in the conduct of such persons and the freedom of press extends to engaging in uninhibited debate about the involvement of public figures in public issues and events. (Ref. (1994) 6 SCC 632 R. Rajagopal & Anr. Vs. State of Tamil Nadu & Others Para 18).

(VII) Right to privacy that rests in an individual may be waived by him by express or implied consent or lost by a course of conduct which estops its assertions. Such implication may be deduced from the conduct of the parties and the surrounding circumstances.

(VIII) A public person or personage is one who by his standing, accomplishment, fame, mode of life or by adopting a profession or calling which gives the public a legitimate interest in his doings, affairs and character has so become a public figure and thereby relinquishes at least a part of his privacy.

(IX) The standard to be adopted for assessing as to whether the published material infracts the right to privacy of any individual is that of an ordinary man of common sense and prudence and not an out of ordinary or hyper-sensitive man. (Ref. (2007) 1 SCC 143 Ajay Goswami v. UOI & Ors.).

(X) Even though in this country, the freedom of press does not have presumptive priority as in some other jurisdictions including the United States of America, however the importance of a free media of communication to a healthy democracy has to receive sufficient importance and emphasis.

(XI) In evaluating a relief to be granted in respect of a complaint against infraction of the right to privacy, the court has to balance the rights of the persons complaining of infraction of right to privacy against freedom of press and the right of public to disclosure of newsworthy information. Such consideration may entail the interest of the community and the court has to balance the proportionality of interfering with one right against the proportionality of impact by infraction of the other.

(XII) The publication has to be judged as a whole and news items, advertisements and published matter cannot be read without the accompanying message that is purported to be conveyed to public. Pre-publication censorship may not be countenanced in the scheme of the constitutional framework unless it is established that the publication has been made with reckless disregard for truth, publication shall not be normally prohibited. (Ref.: (2007) 1 SCC 143 Ajay Goswami Vs. UOI & Ors.; (1994) 6 SCC 632 R. Rajagopal & Anr. Vs. State of Tamil Nadu & Others and AIR 2002 Delhi 58 Khushwant Singh & Anr. Vs. Maneka Gandhi)."

Thus we see that the right to privacy in Indian law, even in the realm of tort law has had an inextricable connection with constitutional principles and constitutional cases have had a very huge impact on the development of this right in India. However a perusal of these cases shows that the right to privacy is available only insofar as information which is personal in nature, however in situations where the information is non-personal in nature the right to privacy may not be as useful and this is where, as we shall see below, the tort of breach of confidentiality comes in to fill the void.

Tort of Breach of Confidentiality

While there have been a number of landmark cases in India on the issue of breach of confidence in a contractual or a statutory setting, these cases are not very relevant for a discussion on the tort of breach of confidentiality. This is not to say that the tort of breach of confidentiality is non-existent in Indian law, the Courts here have time and again accepted that there does exist such a tortuous remedy in certain situations. We shall now try to examine the contours of this principle of torts by discussing some of the landmark cases on the topic.

In the case of Petronet LNG Ltd. v. Indian Petro Group and Another, [32] the Delhi High Court considered a claim by a corporation seeking to prevent a news and media group from reporting its confidential negotiations and contracts with counterparties. The claim was based upon both the right to privacy as well as the right to confidentiality but in this case the court, looking at the fact that the plaintiff was a corporation and also the type of information involved denied the claim on the right to privacy. However, it did allow the injunction claimed by the corporation based on the right to confidentiality. Summarizing its discussion of the right to confidentiality, the Court stated thus:

"49. It may be seen from the above discussion, that originally, the law recognized relationships- either through status (marriage) or arising from contract (such as employment, contract for services etc) as imposing duties of confidentiality. The decision in Coco (1969) marked a shift, though imperceptibly, to a possibly wider area or zone. Douglas noted the paradigm shift in the perception, with the enactment of the Human Rights Act; even before that, in Attorney General (2) (also called the Spycatcher case, or the Guardian case) the Court acknowledged that there could be situations -where a third party (likened to a passerby, coming across sensitive information, wafting from the top of a building, below) being obliged to maintain confidentiality, having regard to the nature and sensitivity of the information….."

While discussing the factors that the Court would have to consider while deciding a claim based on the breach of confidentiality, the Delhi High Court relied upon and quoted from English judgments as follows:

"50. Even while recognizing the wider nature of duty - in the light of the Human Rights Act, 1998, and Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention, it was cautioned that the court, in each case, where breach of confidentiality, is complained, and even found- has to engage in a balancing process; the factors to be weighed while doing so, were reflected in A v. B Plc [2003] QB 195; the latest judgment in H.R.H. Prince of Wales indicates that the court would look at the kind of information, the nature of relationship, etc, and also consider proportionality, while weighing whether relief could be given:

"The court will need to consider whether, having regard to the nature of the information and all the relevant circumstances, it is legitimate for the owner of the information to seek to keep it confidential or whether it is in the public interest that the information should be made public….

..In applying the test of proportionality, the nature of the relationship that gives rise to the duty of confidentiality may be important."

Holding that the principles discussed in the English cases given in the context of individual rights of confidentiality would also hold good in the case of corporations, the Court held that:

"51. Though the reported cases, discussed above, all dealt with individual right, to confidentiality of private information (Duchess of Argyll;Frazer; Douglas; Campbell and H.R.H. Prince of Wales) yet, the formulations consciously approved in the Guardian, and Campbell, embrace a wider zone of confidentiality, that can possibly be asserted. For instance, professional records of doctors regarding treatment of patients, ailments of individuals, particulars, statements of witnesses deposing in investigations into certain types of crimes, particulars of even accused who are facing investigative processes, details victims of heinous assaults and crimes, etc, may, be construed as confidential information, which, if revealed, may have untoward consequences, casting a corresponding duty on the person who gets such information - either through effort, or unwittingly, not to reveal it. Similarly, in the cases of corporations and businesses, there could be legitimate concerns about its internal processes and trade secrets, marketing strategies which are in their nascent stages, pricing policies and so on, which, if prematurely made public, could result in irreversible, and unknown commercial consequences. However, what should be the approach of the court when the aggrieved party approaches it for relief, would depend on the facts of each case, the nature of the information, the corresponding content of the duty, and the balancing exercise to be carried out. It is held, therefore, that even though the plaintiff cannot rely on privacy, its suit is maintainable, as it can assert confidentiality in its information."

Apart from privacy, the law of confidentiality has been used in cases where there has been a definite harm to one side but none of the other laws provide for any relief. This was the situation in the case of Zee Telefilms Limited v. Sundial Communications Pvt Ltd, [33] where a company which developed television and media programming had discussed their concept of a new show with a network during negotiations which could not be finalized. The network however subsequently tried to start a new show which was based on the same concept and idea as the one presented by the plaintiff company. The plaintiff sued the network, inter alia on a claim for breach of confidential information and asked that the network be prevented from airing its show. In this case the plaintiff's claim based on copyright was rejected because copyright only subsists on the expression of an idea and not the idea itself, therefore the tort of breach of confidentiality had to be resorted to in order to give relief to the plaintiffs. Discussing the difference between confidentiality and copyright, the Division Bench of the Bombay High Court held:

"10. The law of the confidence is different from law of copyright. In paragraph 21.2 (page 721), [of Copinger and Skone-James on Copyright (13th Edn.)] the learned author has pointed out that right to restrain publication of work upon the grounds, that to do so would be breach of trust of confidence, is a broader right than proprietary right of copyright. There can be no copyright of ideas or information and it is not infringement of copyright to adopt or appropriate ideas of another or to publish information received from another, provided there is no substantial copying of the form in which those ideas have, or that information has, been previously embodied. But if the ideas or information have been acquired by a person under such circumstances that it would be a breach of good faith to publish them and he has no just case or excuses for doing so, the court may grant injunction against him. The distinction between the copyright and confidence may be of considerable importance with regard to unpublished manuscripts / works submitted, and not accepted, for publication or use. Whereas copyright protects material that has been reduced to permanent form, the general law of confidence may protect either written or oral confidential communication. Copyright is good against the world generally while confidence operates against those who receive information or ideas in confidence. Copyright has a fixed statutory time limit which does not apply to confidential information, though in practice application of confidence usually ceases when the information or ideas becomes public knowledge. Further the obligation of confidence rests not only on the original recipient, but also on any person who received the information with knowledge acquired at the time or subsequently that it was originally given in confidence."

A similar view, in a similar fact situation Single Judge Bench of the Delhi High Court had also came to a similar conclusion in the case of Anil Gupta v. Kunal Das Gupta.[34]

The law of confidentiality has also come to the rescue of employers in attempting to prevent important business and client information from being taken or copied by the employees for their personal gain. In the case of Mr. Diljeet Titus, Advocate v. Mr. Alfred A. Adebare, [35] the Delhi High Court had to decide a claim based on breach of confidentiality when some ex-employees of a law firm tried to take away client lists and drafts of legal agreements and opinions from their earlier employer-law firm. Discussing the importance of preventing employees or former employees from away which such actions, the Court held as follows:

"81. I am in full agreement with the views expressed in Margaret, Duchess of Argyll (Feme Sole) v. Duke of Argyll and Ors. (1965) 1 All ER 611, that a Court must step in to restrain a breach of confidence independent of any right under law. Such an obligation need not be expressed but be implied and the breach of such confidence is independent of any other right as stated above. The obligation of confidence between an advocate and the client can hardly be re-emphasised. Section 16 of the Copyright Act itself emphasizes the aspect of confidentiality de hors even the rights under the Copyright Act. If the defendants are permitted to do what they have done it would shake the very confidence of relationship between the advocates and the trust imposed by clients in their advocates. The actions of the defendants cause injury to the plaintiff and as observed by Aristotle: 'It makes no difference whether a good man defrauds a bad one, nor whether a man who commits an adultery be a good or a bad man; the law looks only to the difference created by the injury."

The Court allowed the claim of the law firm holding that the relationship between a law firm and its attorneys is of a nature where information passed between them would be covered by the law of confidence and would not be allowed to be copied or used by the attorneys for their individual gain.

Recently, in 2009, the principles relating to breach of confidentiality under Indian law were very succinctly summarized by the Bombay High Court in the case of Urmi Juvekar Chiang v. Global Broadcasting News Limited,[36] where in a fact situation similar to the ones in Zee Telefilms case and the Anil Gupta case, the Court discussed a number of previous cases on breach of confidentiality and laid down the following principles:

"8. The principles on which the action of breach of confidence can succeed, have been culled out as

(i) he (Plaintiff) had to identify clearly what was the information he was relying on;

(ii) he (Plaintiff) had to show that it was handed over in the circumstances of confidence;

(iii) he (Plaintiff) had to show that it was information of the type which could be treated as

confidential; and

(iv) he (Plaintiff) had to show that it was used without licence or there was threat to use it…… It is further noted that at interlocutory stage, the Plaintiff does not have to prove (iii) and (iv) referred to above, as he will at the trial. But the Plaintiff must address them and show that he has atleast seriously arguable case in relation to each of them."

From the above discussion on Indian law it is clear that the Courts in India have tried to incorporate the best of both worlds, in the sense that it has taken and adopted the principle of a right to privacy, a breach of which would give rise to an action in torts, from American jurisprudence while rejecting the stand taken by English Courts in rejecting such a right to privacy. However, Indian Courts have often referred to the decisions given by English Courts as well as American Courts in interpreting the principle of the right to confidentiality. Therefore on an overall examination it would appear that insofar as the rights to privacy and confidentiality are concerned, Indian jurisprudence has more in common with American law rather than English law.


The law of privacy does not seem to have existed as a recognizable principle of law before it was propounded in the article by Warren and Brandeis in the Harvard Law Review in 1890. It slowly gained traction in American jurisprudence over the twentieth century but was rejected outright by the Courts in England, which preferred to follow the principle of confidentiality rather than privacy and tried to expand that old principle to fit newer and newer situations. Since Indian law borrows heavily from English law and to a smaller extent also from American law, the Courts in India have accepted both, the principle of a right to privacy as well as a right to confidentiality. This is not to say that the Courts in America do not recognize a right to confidentiality and only accept a right to privacy. Infact American Courts, just like their Indian counterparts, recognize both a right to confidentiality as well as a right to privacy.

Since Indian courts accept both the concept of breach of privacy as well as breach of confidentiality, one should not try to figure out if a particular circumstance is more appropriate for the one over the other, but actually use both principles to supplement one another for achieving the same objective. For example in situations where the conditions required for the application of the law of confidentiality do not exist such as disclosure of personal information by a person who did not receive it in a confidential capacity, one could apply the principle of privacy to prevent such information being disclosed or claim a remedy after disclosure. On the other hand if the information to be disclosed is not of a personal nature then one could try to utilize the law of confidentiality to prevent disclosure or claim damages.

[1] Harry Kalven, Jr., Privacy in Tort Law-Were Warren and Brandeis Wrong?, "31 Law & Contemp. Problems". 326, 327 (1966). Elbridge L. Adams, The Right of Privacy, and Its Relation to the Law of Libel, 39 AM. L. REV. 37 (1905).

[2] Wainwright v. Home Office, 2003 UKHL 53.

[3] Neil M. Richards & Daniel J. Solove, Privacy's Other Path: Recovering the Law of Confidentiality, "96 Georgetown Law Journal", 123 at 128 and 132 (2007).

[4] Pollard v. Photographic Co., (1888) 40 Ch. D. 345.

[5] It is also said that this concern arose out of the personal experience of Samuel Warren, whose wedding announcement as well as the report on his sister-in-law's death in the newspapers did not go down well with him. http://www.english.illinois.edu/-people-/faculty/debaron/380/380powerpoint/privacy.pdf

[6] (1848) 41 Eng. Rep. 1171 (Ch.).

[7] Neil M. Richards & Daniel J. Solove, Privacy's Other Path: Recovering the Law of Confidentiality, "96 Georgetown Law Journal", 123 (2007).

[8] Samuel D. Warren and Louis D. Brandeis, The Right to Privacy, "4 Harvard Law Review", 193 at 207 (1890).

[9] Thomas M. Cooley, The Law Of Torts, 2nd Ed., 1888, p. 29.

[10] Wainwright v. Home Office, 2003 UKHL 53.

[11] Neil M. Richards & Daniel J. Solove, Privacy's Other Path: Recovering the Law of Confidentiality, "96 Georgetown Law Journal", 123 (2007).

[12] As early as in 1891, the case of Schuyler v. Curtis, 45 NYS 787 (Sup. Ct., 1891) involving the erection of a statue of a dead person, recognized the principle proposed in Warren and Brandeis' article.

[13] Most famously the case of Robertson v. Rochester folding Box Co., 64 NE 442 (NY 1902) where the New York Court of appeals specifically rejected a the existence of a right to privacy as proposed by Warren and Brandeis.

[14] Neil M. Richards & Daniel J. Solove, Privacy's Other Path: Recovering the Law of Confidentiality, "96 Georgetown Law Journal", 123 (2007).

[15] Bredd v. Lovelace, (1577) 21 Eng. Rep. 33 (Ch.)

[16] For doctor patient confidentiality we need look no further than the Hippocratic Oath itself which states "Whatever, in connection with my professional service, or not in connection with it, I see or hear, in the life of men, which ought not to be spoken of abroad, I will not divulge, as reckoning that all such should be kept secret".

[17] (1848) 41 Eng. Rep. 1171 (Ch.).

[18] Neil M. Richards & Daniel J. Solove, Privacy's Other Path: Recovering the Law of Confidentiality, 96 GEORGETOWN LAW JOURNAL, 123 (2007).

[19] [1948] 65 RPC 203.

[20] [1969] RPC 41 (UK).

[21] Neil M. Richards & Daniel J. Solove, Privacy's Other Path: Recovering the Law of Confidentiality, 96 GEORGETOWN LAW JOURNAL, 123 (2007).

[22] Neil M. Richards & Daniel J. Solove, Privacy's Other Path: Recovering the Law of Confidentiality, 96 GEORGETOWN LAW JOURNAL, 123 (2007).

[23] 2003 UKHL 53.

[24] [1979] Ch 344.

[25] [1997] AC 558.

[26] [1991] FSR 62

[30] Phoolan Devi v. Shekhar Kapoor and others, http://indiankanoon.org/doc/793946/.

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