Opacity in the name of privacy

The draft Personal Data Protection Bill poses a danger to the hard-won right to information On August 24, 2017, the Supreme Court declared the right to privacy a fundamental right, a ruling widely welcomed. But many transparency advocates also felt apprehension, fearing that the right to privacy — meant to protect citizens from arbitrary state and corporate surveillance — might be deployed first and foremost to shield authorities from scrutiny by citizens. Issue of accountability The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018, drafted by the Srikrishna Committee, confirms these concerns. The Bill identifies “personal data” as any data that directly or indirectly identifies a person. It then calls for amending clause 8.1.j of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. The clause currently exempts the following from disclosure: “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 Public Information Officer… is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure. Provided that the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person.” The Srikrishna Committee suggests amending this clause to authorise public information officers, or PIOs, to deny information containing ‘personal data’, if they feel that such disclosure is likely to cause harm to ‘the data principal’, and if such harm outweighs public interest. The Bill defines ‘data principal’ as whoever the data relates to. This amendment may seem reasonable on first reading, but for the practical experiences of RTI users in the past years. The RTI Act’s core aim is to bring accountability by making available public records that disclose the actions and decisions of specific, identifiable members of the political class and the bureaucracy. The Data Protection Bill extends the cloak of ‘personal data’ over all such information. It asks PIOs (now overwhelmingly appointed at junior levels) to weigh public interest against the potential for harm to those identifiable in public documents. The Bill defines harm expansively to include everything from blackmail and bodily injury to loss of reputation, humiliation and “mental injury”. The Bill ignores that another key aim of the RTI Act is “containing corruption”. By bringing corruption to light, dogged RTI users have served public interest and caused ‘harm’, in terms of the Bill, to those exposed.

Source  : https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/opacity-in-the-name-of-privacy/article25052926.ece

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