RIGHT TO INFORMATION WITH SPECIAL EMPHASIS ON RIGHT TO PRIVACY IN INDIA
"Information is the currency of democracy," is very rightly said by Thomas Jefferson. Right to information is the foundation of a democratic government. In India, democracy vests with the people of India, so we have a right to know. The Right to Information Act, 2005 was formulated, which replaced the Freedom of Information Act, 2002. Privacy and RTI. are related to each other. The Government is accountable to the people in an open governance system. In the modern era, people are more aware of their rights as well as their privacy. India's legal system is formulating various statutes, acts and legislation to make the Government accountable and transparent, but the concept of privacy runs parallel to R.T.I. The law provides us with the right to access the information held by the government authorities; on the other hand, the right to privacy ensures the confidentiality to access, collect and usage of personal information about them that governments and private bodies hold. These two laws are contradictory and complicated.
Right to Information in India
Right to Information Act, 2005 is a significant enactment that changed the overall scenario of Indian democracy. Accountability and transparency are the characteristics of good governance. If the citizens are not aware of the government functionaries and policies, they cannot form their opinion. The said Act mentions the procedure, the time period within which the information is provided, and some exemptions to ensure confidentiality in important matters of the Government. The more remarkable is the transparency, the greater is the satisfaction of citizens. This increases the faith of people in their elected Government.
R.T.I. Act 2005 applies to both central as well as state governments. It also covers the acts and functionaries of the public authorities. Under section 2(h) of the said Act, "A public authority which is bound to furnish information means any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted (a) by or under the Constitution, (b) by any other law made by Parliament, (c) by any other law made by State Legislature, (d) by a notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government and includes any (i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed, (ii) non-government organization substantially financed - which, in clauses (a) to (d) are all, directly or indirectly funded by the appropriate Government. The Act also exempts intelligence and security organizations from disclosing confidential information. It is further stated that if the allegations of corruption or violation of human rights, then they are liable for disclosure.
Constitutional provisions related to R.T.I.
The Supreme Court of India has discussed the citizens right to know in a number of cases. In Bennett Coleman v. Union of India (A.I.R. 1973 SC 106), it was held that Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution includes the right to information under the right to freedom of speech and expression. In SP Gupta v. Union of India (A.I.R. 1982 SC 149), the court held that it is the right of every citizen of India to know every detail of the public transaction, public policies and public functionaries.
Y.K. Sabharwal, C.J. has very rightly said in Kuldeep Nayar v. U.O.I, "Secrecy becomes a source of corruption - Sunlight and transparency have the capacity to remove it."
So, the right to information is now the constitutional mandate. In a democratic setup, citizens demand transparency and accountability. So, the formulation of the said Act turned up as a boon. Now there is no room for corruption. The government officials are also liable for the disclosure, and they are answerable to the general public.
Other Legislations in India
Official Secrets Act, 1923
Initially, the Official Secrets Act was formulated to secure government documents and to ensure confidentiality in governmental matters.
The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988
This act is formulated to investigate the government agencies on the allegations of corruption.
The Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, 1992
SEBI Act is established to put a check on the companies so that they cannot manipulate the market. Therefore, transparency is maintained on their part. Many laws are framed to establish a system of good and transparent Government.
Right to Privacy
The Constitution of India has guaranteed us many fundamental rights, which includes the right to privacy also. Now, what comes under the preview of privacy? This implied right comes under Article 21; Right to life and personal liberty. In the case of K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India, the right to privacy is declared as our fundamental right under Part III of the Constitution.
Jude Cooley said, "The right to privacy is synonymous with to right to be let alone".
With the advent of modern technology, the world is getting crazier day-by-day for the new gadgets, mobiles, laptops etc., but there is certain misuse of technology also. Like phone tapping, is it a violation of the right to privacy? In Kharak Singh v. State of U.P. (A.I.R. 1963 SC 1295), the petition of the violation of the right to privacy was filed by the petitioner for the surveillance and domiciliary visits. The petitioner was charged for an offence of dacoity for which the police acted. The apex court relied on the case Wolf v. Colorado (338 U.S. 25 (1949), in which the U.S. court held that the common-law rule that event man's house was his castle, expounded a concept of personal liberty which did not rest upon a theory that had ceased to exist and that the domiciliary visit was repugnant to personal liberty and hence unconstitutional. In another case of People's Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India (2004 1 SCC 712), the Supreme Court held that "right to life and personal liberty includes the right to privacy and right to privacy includes telephone conversation in the privacy at home or office, and thus telephone tapping violates Art. 21".
In R. Rajagopal v. State of T.N. (1994 6 SCC 632), popularly known as the "Autoshanker case", the Supreme Court has expressly held the "right to privacy" or the right to be let alone is guaranteed by Art. 21 of the Constitution. No one can publish his right is to safeguard one's own privacy as well as the privacy of his family, procreation, marriage etc.
The right to privacy is not an absolute right. To prevent crime, disorder, or protection of health or moral, or protection of rights and freedom of others, the state needs to take certain relevant steps which are for the interest of the nation. With the increasing terrorist activities and others, government surveillance acts as a watchdog on enemies.
R.T.I. and the Right to Privacy are two sides of the same coin. R.T.I. emphasizes the Government's accountability and transparency. Thus we can say that R.T.I. promotes privacy.
Major Areas of Conflict
Firstly, Third-Party Information: If there is a need to disclose any information related to a third party, the public authority cannot decline the request of such disclosure on the ground of confidentiality, rather he can take the third party's consent for the disclosure of such information.
Another aspect is; the right to disclose information in the public interest, the disclosure of the fact that the spouse is H.I.V. positive cannot be said as a violation of the right to privacy because the "Right to life" includes the right to lead a healthy life to enjoy all the faculties of the human body in their prime condition.
R.T.I. and the right to privacy is made for the welfare of the public. The newly established legislative framework has made our country more dynamic and transparent. Law changes with the needs of society. So, the administrative malpractices have resulted in a strengthened legal system. There is a need to make the Government accountable for its acts and policies. People have a right to know regarding all the acts of the Government in a democratic setup.
On the other hand, certain exemptions are also mentioned in the R.T.I. act, which is a mandatory requirement for the welfare of the nation. The Government cannot disclose all the information to the general public; confidentiality needs to be maintained in certain matters. Similarly, the situation with the citizens of India is complex; it is the right to privacy that shields the individual's privacy. A proper balance should be maintained to avoid any conflict between these two rights. Appropriate institutional structures and public interest tests should be created to balance these rights. There must be harmony between data protection and the right to information. So, R.T.I. and privacy issues need to be tackled accordingly. Both concepts are overlapping in terms of confidentiality and disclosures. The exception clauses in the R.T.I. Act of 2005 are significant from a privacy point of view. The public authorities should deal with the applicants in a friendly manner, and public interest should be the core & the disclosures should be made accordingly.