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I. Legal Framework

Constitutional privacy framework

The 1978 Constitution1 of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka does not explicitly recognize the right to personal privacy as a basic fundamental right. In 1997 and 2000, the proposed versions of the draft Constitution considered the right to privacy and family life as a fundamental right. The proposed October 1997 Constitution's Article 14 (1) specifically stated, "Every person has the right to have his or her private and family life, home, correspondence and communications respected, and shall not be subjected to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation."2 However, the latest August 2000 proposed Constitution has no reference to the right of privacy.3 The only close reference is incorporated in Article 14 (1)(e), which provides for "[t]he freedom, either by himself or in association with others, and either in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice or teaching." Importantly, the Article covers only the private domain of life, mainly in religious matters, although it carries sufficient rationale for the Supreme Court judiciary to employ constitutional doctrinal canons to interpret and carve out the privacy right in other relevant circumstances, like telephone tapping and police surveillance.

In Sri Lanka there are two recent cases related to individual privacy, one related to the interception of communications (Hewamanna v Attorney General)4; the other related to privacy and freedom of the press (Sunday Times defamation case in 2000). In both cases the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka highlighted the importance of the individual's right to privacy.

The common law in Sri Lanka does not recognize any right to the protection of personal information. It only permits "peripheral protection"5 or remedial action for invasions of privacy stemming from the inappropriate use of personal data.