“Where a society has chosen to accept democracy as its creedal faith, it is elementary that the citizens ought to know what their government is doing.” -Justice P. N.Bhagwati
- Right to Information and Right to Privacy can be considered two sides of the same coin and are two important rights conferred upon the citizens of India.
- In the 2017 judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of K. S. Puttuswamy vs. Union of India, the Supreme Court made it clear that the Right to Privacy is a fundamental right.
- Matters concerning family, education, procreation, reputation are protected under the Right to Privacy.
- Right to Information Act 2005 empowers the citizens and gives them a right to know about the working of the government and helps maintain transparency in the working of the government.
- A mechanism must be developed to identify what falls under the ambit of which act in order to help smooth functioning of both the acts together.
During earlier times, the law would give protection only against physical dangers and this was considered to be right to life. But with changing times, it was important to amend the law according to the ever-changing needs of the people. Right to Privacy and Right to Information are two important rights. The two rights complement each other in holding governments accountable, however, there is also a potential conflict between the two when there is a demand to access personal information held by the Government. The Government needs to come up with definite mechanisms to identify what comes under the ambit of RTI and what comes under the ambit of Right to Privacy. The two rights are often described as ‘two sides of the same coin.’ Right to Information provides a fundamental right to a person to access information held by government authorities but at the same time, the right to privacy grantsa person the fundamental right to control access and use of personal information about them that is held by the Government. This article focuses on the Right to Privacy, the Right to Information, what comes under the ambit of RTI, and the conflict between the two. Keep reading to know more!
According to Merriam-Webster Right to Privacy can be defined as ‘the right of a person to be free from intrusion into or publicity concerning matters of a personal nature.’ In short, the Right to Privacy can be understood as the right to personal autonomy. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the Right to Privacy under Article 12 which states that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence nor to attack upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”Black’s Law Dictionary defines the Right to privacy as ‘Right to be left alone.
The Right to Privacy in India is included under the Right to Life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution is liberally interpreted to include every such aspect of life which makes a person’s life meaningful and worth living and one such aspect is privacy.
What is protected under the Right to Privacy?
Under the Right to Privacy following interests of an individual are protected:
vi. Everything that is a personal matter.
The concept of the Right to Privacy was for the very first time discussed in the case of Kharak Singh vs. State of UP. The Hon’ble Supreme Court, in this case, held that Regulation 236 of the UP Police was in violation of Article 21 and held that the Right to Privacy is a part of the Right to Protection of life and personal liberty.
The Supreme Court in the landmark judgment of K. S. Puttuswamy vs Union of India laid down that the right to privacy is a fundamental right.
In 2012 retired judge of Supreme Court K. S. Puttuswamy had filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the Constitutional validity of the Aadhar scheme introduced by the UPA Government. In 2015, a three-judge bench passed an order that a bench of appropriate strength must examine the correctness of the decisions in M. P. Sharma vs. Satish Chandra and Kharak Singh vs. State of U.P. and on 23rd August 2017, the 9-Judge Bench unanimously recognized the right to privacy as a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. The Hon’ble Court overruled M. P. Sharma and Kharak Singh cases as they did not expressly recognize the right to privacy.
In the recent case of Bharatiya Bikaash Parisada vs. State of Odisha, where the petitioner had sought permission for the installation of CCTV cameras in the Covid hospitals in order to make the treatment of Covid patients more transparent and accountable to the public, the Orissa High Court Bench held that the petitioners did not take into account the implications such a move might have on the privacy of patients admitted in hospitals. The Court held that there was no effort made to understand the constitutional right to privacy.
So now, it is settled that a citizen has a right to safeguard his privacy regarding personal matters. Any person who publishes and infringes on the right to privacy of another person without his/her consent will be liable in action for damages.
However, there are permissible restrictions on the Right to Privacy. These are Legislative Provision, Administrative/Executive order, Judicial order.
RIGHT TO INFORMATION
The Right to Information is considered a fundamental right under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India. The Right to Information Act was introduced in India in the year 2005. The primary focus of the Act is to empower the citizens, promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government, curb corruption, and make democracy work for the people in the real sense. Under the Act, any citizen can request information from a public authority that is required to reply expeditiously or within 30 days. Under this Act, the public authorities are required to computerize their records and make the procedure to obtain information easier so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request information formally.
Rights available under RTI
i. Right to ask any question to the government or seek any information.
ii. Take copies of any government documents
iii. Inspect any government document
iv. Inspect any of the government works
What comes under the ambit of RTI?
The RTI mandates that every Indian citizen is free to seek information from any public or government authority however, the information sought must not be related to national security defense or anything concerned with personal details.
A citizen can seek answers relating to applying for a delayed IT refund, driving license or passport, information related to funds allotted under different kinds of relief funds in the country. Under this Act, a student can also ask for copies of answer sheets from universities.
In a 2019 judgment of the Supreme Court, the office of the Chief Justice of India was also brought under the ambit of RTI. The Judgement cleared many misconceptions regarding RTI. As per the Judgment, private organizations come under the ambit of RTI as well.
Government-funded NGOs are also included under the Right to Information.
CONFLICT BETWEEN RIGHT TO PRIVACY AND RIGHT TO INFORMATION
Raising a concern regarding the vexatious use of RTI, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the citizens’ information should be constrained if it infringes an individual’s privacy. According to Mr. Singh, a fine balance is required to be maintained between RTI and the right to privacy.A citizen’s right to information should depend on whether such disclosure of information encroaches upon someone’s privacy.
There’s a real challenge when both – right to privacy and right to information are at a crossroads.
In Girish Deshpande vs. Central Information Commission , the Supreme Court considered the issue of whether the Central Information Commission can deny information concerning personal matters of a public servant relating to his service career, details of his assets, liabilities, movable and immovable properties on the basis of exception mentioned in Section 8 (1) (j) of the RTI Act. The section states that – “there shall be no obligation to give any citizen information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information provided that the information, which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person.”
Furthermore in R. K. Jain vs. Union of India , where the Appellant sought copies of note sheets and correspondence pages as contained in the Annual Confidential Report any follow-up action concerning the integrity of public servants was denied based on the section mentioned earlier.
Then in 2017, the Hon’ble Apex Court reiterated its position in its judgment in the case of Canara Bank vs. C. S. Shyam. In this case, the information sought was of the personal nature of an employee of the Canara Bank. The Court affirmed the position in Girish Deshpande as well as the R. K. Jain case and held that personal information is outside the ambit of Right to Information.
In a controversial case before the Supreme Court, Ratan Tata objected to the publication of his conversation with Neera Radia who handles the corporate communication for the group. Tata held that Radia’s phones were tapped by government agencies for investigating a possible offense. Ratan Tata submitted in his petition before Supreme Court, to protect his right to privacy.
The Right to Information Act’s purpose is disclosure, and the public’s right to information should prevail unless such disclosure publicizes intimate details of a highly personal nature. The Radia tapes published public issues, but not the personal life of Tata.
The question before the court was whether Tata’s conversations should be revealed through RTI, or whether his conversations would fall under the exemption of personal information found in section 8(j) of the RTI Act.
In the above case, the Supreme Court was well within its rights to allow the disclosure of conversation details between Mr. Tata and Neera Radia.
To clear the misconceptions between Right to Privacy and Right to Information, one needs to understand that Right to Privacy guarantees protection against encroachment on matters relating to someone’s personal life. Right to Information is given to the citizens in matters of public interest and importance and not relating to the personal life of anyone. A person has the right to keep his personal life protected and anyone who infringes on the person’s personal life without their consent will be liable to pay damages.
What one needs to understand is that the Right to Information enables the citizens to gain information regarding the working of the Government and it is given to them to ensure that there’s transparency in the working of the Government.
The right to privacy is a fundamental right that protects the personal life of an individual and the Right to Information does not give anyone the right to encroach upon the personal life and matters of someone.
Each individual has his/her own personal space, Right to Privacy guarantees the same. In the modern age, the Right to Privacy has become very essential given the use of social media or spy cameras. We need assurance that if anyone encroaches on our right to privacy, we will be given protection against it.
While dealing with the Right to Information, it is important that public interest is at the core and disclosures should be made accordingly. One must assess whether the information he/she seeks is not infringing upon anyone’s right to privacy and strictly deals with matters relating to the working of Government and in the public interest.
Appropriate institutional structures and public interest tests mustbe developed to balance these rights and ensure thatthe protection of personal interests and the right to information work together in harmony.