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RTI doesn't trample upon privacy: expert panel

Government officials riding high on hopes that privacy concerns could blunt the right to information are in for disappointment.

delhi Updated: Oct 29, 2012 01:46 IST
Aloke Tikku

Government officials riding high on hopes that privacy concerns could blunt the right to information are in for disappointment.

An expert panel set up to build a framework for a privacy regulation in India has brushed aside suggestions that the information law was trampling upon privacy of public servants or individuals in public life.

The Justice (retd) Ajit Prakash Shah panel has told the government that privacy was only a "narrow exception" to the citizens' right of information.

And when someone claimed exemption from providing information on grounds of privacy, the Information Commissioners used the public interest test to determine whether "the individual's right to privacy should be trumped by the public's right to information", the Shah panel said.

The panel's recommendations come weeks after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke about concerns regarding possible infringement of personal privacy while providing information under the Right to Information Act.

Singh had gone a step further to stress that "citizens' right to know should definitely be circumscribed if disclosure of information encroaches upon someone's personal privacy. But where to draw the line is a complicated question".

The Shah panel - that had only three civil society members, NDTV's Barkha Dutt, researcher Dr Usha Ramanathan and Pranesh Prakash of advocacy group, Centre for Internet & Society - has indicated there was no need for concern.

"The (proposed) Privacy Act should not circumscribe the Right to Information Act," the Shah panel said, pointing that there were more than 400 cases where the Central Information Commissioner had pronounced decisions on the balance between privacy and transparency.

Singh's remarks at the convention to mark the seventh anniversary of the RTI Act - that reflected the discomfort within sections of the government at the use of the transparency law - had come in for severe criticism from RTI activists.

Instead, the panel listed out nearly six dozen laws or those in the pipeline that contained provisions impacting privacy.

Government officials said many of these laws or their rules would need to be fine-tuned in line with privacy principles, particularly those relating to the financial sector and the two big databases of residents being created by the home ministry's National Population Register and the Unique Identification Authority of India's Aadhaar.