Activists, MPs flag RTI amendment in data protection bill

The draft Digital Personal Data Protection Bill expands the scope of information that can be denied on privacy grounds, worrying activists that denials of information in the public interest could increase

March 13, 2023 08:37 pm | Updated 08:37 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Nikhil Dey speaking, as Anjali Bhardwaj, John Brittas, Karthik Chidambaram, Jawahar Sirkar and Wajahat Habibullah seen during a function on ‘Public Meeting on the draft Digital Personel Data Protection Bill’, in New Delhi on Monday, March 13, 2023.

Nikhil Dey speaking, as Anjali Bhardwaj, John Brittas, Karthik Chidambaram, Jawahar Sirkar and Wajahat Habibullah seen during a function on ‘Public Meeting on the draft Digital Personel Data Protection Bill’, in New Delhi on Monday, March 13, 2023. | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

Activists and Opposition Members of Parliament on March 13 expressed concern that a proposed amendment to the Right to Information Act, 2005, could close off avenues to citizens to uncover corruption. Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act allows public authorities to refuse access to information if it intrudes on the privacy of an individual, but permits disclosure of information if there is an overriding public interest. 

The draft Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022, which the Union Government indicated it intends to introduce in the ongoing Budget session of Parliament, removes provisions from Section 8(1)(j) that allow public interest disclosure. 

After the amendment, the RTI Act would “now say that any information that is personal will not be disclosed,” said Anjali Bhardwaj, Co-Convenor of the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI).

Ms. Bhardwaj and three Members of Parliament were speaking at a discussion organised by the NCPRI. 

“Whether the information is shared or not [if the Bill passes] will be at the whims and fancy of the Central government,” Congress MP Karti P. Chidambaram said. 

The discussion featured remarks from grassroots RTI activists, who warned of specific ways in which the amendment could stall requests for information in the public interest. Kusum, an RTI activist from Munirka, said that she was able to discover that ration shops were not distributing cooking oil as required in her neighbourhood, but stock and retail records indicated that they were distributed. 

ALSO READ | How different is the new data protection Bill?

“I went to everyone’s homes [listed in the records] and asked if they got cooking oil,” Ms. Kusum said, after obtaining the records through RTI requests. “And that’s when we started getting the oil.”

The speakers were worried that such cases, where names of beneficiaries are obtained through ration distribution records and can be verified by activists, may start getting denied on privacy grounds. Other examples cited for where the RTI could be useful were misappropriated pension funds.

CPI(M) MP John Brittas said that the draft law was a “conspiracy” to weaken the RTI Act. Mr. Brittas, who is on the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Information Technology, promised that he would seek the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) for clarity on why six years after the K.S. Puttaswamy case in the Supreme Court, which affirmed the fundamental right to privacy, a data protection legislation was circulated for the committee only once.

“I don’t think privacy should be given a go-by because of demands for absolute transparency,” Mr. Chidambaram said at one point during the event, calling for a “fine balance” between the rights to information and privacy. 

Activist and NCPRI founding member Nikhil Dey responded that the RTI movement had always sought to balance the two.

“Section 8(1)(j) was very carefully thought of to protect privacy because obviously the RTI cannot be [intruding] in the domain of a person’s privacy,” Mr. Dey said. “This [Bill] to us is a destruction of the fine balance that you are talking about.”

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in

Comments

Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.