High Court says information can be misused

Passport information, just like the Permanent Account Number of an individual, is personal information and cannot be disclosed to a third party under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the Delhi High Court has held while deciding a bunch of petitions moved by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

“This Court is also of the view that if the passport number of a third party is furnished to an applicant, it can be misused. For instance, if the applicant were to lodge a report with the police that a passport bearing a particular number is lost, the Passport Authority would automatically revoke the same without knowledge and to the prejudice of the third party,” a Bench of Justice Manmohan said.

“After all, passport number is not only personal information but also an identification proof, specifically when one travels abroad,” the Bench added.

The MEA, through counsel P. Roychoudhary, had moved the High Court challenging the order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) directing it to provide copies of passports of third parties along with their birth certificates, educational qualifications and identity proofs to certain applicants under the RTI Act.

The CIC had held that the information is not personal and that citizen’s right to information is to be given primacy over their right to privacy.

Initially, the petitioners, who had either sought passport information of their estranged spouse or any other third party, were denied information by the passport office. In appeal, the Chief Passport Officer also refused to part with the information so sought. The petitioners then moved the CIC, which directed the information be shared.

The CIC in its order had said: “Given our dismal record of mis-governance and rampant corruption which colludes to deny citizens their essential rights and dignity, it is in the fitness of things that the citizen’s right to information is given greater primacy with regard to privacy.”

Justice Manmohan, however, held that the CIC neither examined the issue of larger public interest nor considered Section 11 of the RTI Act, which mandates that views of third party whose information has been sought needs to be invited and considered in such cases before deciding whether to disclose the information or not.

The Bench said even if the CIC concluded that passport information was not exempt from disclosure under the RTI Act, it would still have to follow the third party information system under the RTI Act.

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