Data Protection Bill poses severe restrictions to RTI Act, advocacy group NCPRI cautions government

The Right to Information Act may be amended to prohibit disclosure of any personal information, a change that transparency activists say could limit the scope of the law

July 14, 2023 10:14 pm | Updated August 08, 2023 04:35 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The NCPRI protests against changes to RTI Act, in New Delhi on July 2019.

The NCPRI protests against changes to RTI Act, in New Delhi on July 2019. | Photo Credit: The Hindu

An upcoming amendment to the Right to Information Act, 2005 is set to remove the legal basis allowing government agencies to share personal information in public interest, a move that activists have warned would dilute the transparency law.

In the version of the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill cleared for introduction in Parliament, a copy of which was reviewed by The Hindu, there exists a section that would eliminate the majority of Section 8(1)(j) of the 2005 law.

According to that section, personal information cannot be disclosed under the RTI Act “which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless … the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information”. The data Bill would remove all these caveats, prohibiting government agencies from sharing private information of any kind, regardless of the public interest it may entail.

The National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI), which has been among the major pressure groups advocating for transparency since 1996, wrote to Members of Parliament raising alarm on this change. “The Bill seeks to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 by severely restricting its scope and adversely impacting the ability of people to access information,” said the letter, signed by NCPRI co-convenor Anjali Bhardwaj and other activists.

“It is well established that access to granular information, including personal information, is critical to empower people to undertake collective monitoring and ensure they are able to access their rights and entitlements,” NCPRI said in a note accompanying the letter. “This principle is well recognised and has been adopted in various welfare programmes and schemes. The proposed Bill will potentially place impediments and restrictions on such public disclosures.”

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