Scope of Section 8 (1)(j) of The RTI Act, 2005- 'Privacy' as abuse for claiming exemption
Section 8(1)(J) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 (Hereinafter called 'The Act') provides that notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen-
“Information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has not 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 State Public Information officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be 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.
When a citizen is seeking information about his own case, there is no intrusion into the privacy of his case for denying the information. Personal information mean about a third party. Section 8(1)(j) can be applied only when some one is seeking information about a third party and there will be an element of invasion of privacy. CIC Defined “Invasion of Privacy” as “One, who intentionally intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the solitude or seclusion of another or his private affairs or concerns, is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if the intrusion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.” A personal information must be saved from being made public by the public authority which happens to receive such information. It is to be remembered that a personal information does not cease to be personal just because it is delivered into the care of the public authority by the individual such information. Commission also cannot be oblivious to the fact that personal information, when allowed to be accessed by third parties has the potentially to expose the owner of such information to mischief, harassment, intimidation, defamation and worse. The boundaries of personal/private domains must never be allowed to be breached and, if at all breached, must be for compelling reasons, cautiously, carefully and responsibly evaluated by a competent authority as the Act can't be so interpeted as to allow poaching by third parties into personal domains.
SCOPE OF SECTION 8(1)(J)
The scope and ambit of section 8(1)(j) has been explained in recent decision of Full Bench of this commission in the following terms: “In so far as application of Section 8(1)(j) to deny disclosure on the ground that personal information which has no public interest is concerned, it is necessary to explain the scope and ambit of this sub section. Section 8(1)(j) reads “information which relates 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”. This section has to be read as whole. If done so it would apparent that “personal information” does not mean information relating to the information seeker, but about a third party. That is why, in the Section it is stated “unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual”. If one were to seek information about himself or his own case, the question of invasion of privacy of his own self does not arise. If one were to seek information about himself or his own case, the question of invasion of privacy of his own self does not arise. If one were to ask information about a third party and if it were to invade the privacy of the individual, the information seeker can be denied the information on the ground that disclosure would invade the privacy of a third party. Therefore, when a citizen seeks information about his own case and as long as the information sought is not exempt in terms of other provision of Section 8 RTI Act, this Section cannot be applied to deny the information.(Decision in Appeal No. CIC/WB/A/2006/00469; & 00394 -Shri Rakesh Kumar Singh Vs Lok Sabha Secretariat)
RTI Act vests with every citizen the right to seek information from public authority and every public authority is bound to furnish the information sought for as long as the same is not exempt from disclosure. Section 8(1)(j) has to be read as whole Protection of personal information, especially of a third party, is a valuable privileges which should not be lightly done away with or diluted. Such information should not be disclosed as it is personal information given in confidence and trust to a public authority. The sanctity of the private domain must be kept inviolate at all times.Applicant seeking information about his own case does not attract section 8(1)(j). “personal information” relating to the information seeker, is not barred under section 8(1)(j) is applicable only in respect of third party information since it is going to interfere with the privacy of the individual.
NON EXEMPTED INFORMATION
Denial of information by the Public authority in the garb of u/s 8(1)(j) of the Act, stating that the information is confidential, is unjustified and will be treated as abuse and will an obstruction in any manner. There is no way section 8(1)(j) can be applied in this case when the appellant is seeking information about his own case. As per number of CIC Decisions Following Information can't be denied by the Public authority on the ground that it is 'personal information'-
1. Appointments, promotions, ungradations are all public activity, hence the exemption has been wrongly applied.
2. Document regarding the transfer of two of his colleagues, vis-a-vis whom he felt that he had been discriminated against is not exempted.
3. It was pointed out that the details of leave taken by the public servant has to be disclosed, however, the purpose for which the leave taken by the public servant has to be disclosed, however, the purpose for which the leave was taken need not be given because it is exempted under section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.
4. LTC Information of officials not personal to them.
5. RULES GOVERNING salary, service matters, study leave records, Posting and transfer information of public servant can't be called 'personal information'.
6. Tour programme of officers not personal information.
7. Personal Information sought by legal hier of the deceased employee is not exempted to him.
The commission is of the view That the instrumentally of disclosure under RTI Act must be allowed to be used in such matters with abundant caution with full cognizance of the potentially of its misuse. No, Public Authority can malafidely deny the information on the ground of personal information and it is expected from the PIO concerned to construe the meaning of this Section in fullest conformity with this Act by taking into consideration the facts of case in hands keeping in mind that the boundaries of personal/private domains must never be allowed to be breached and, if at all breached, must be for compelling reasons, cautiously, carefully and responsibly evaluated by a competent authority as the RTIAct can't be so interpreted as to allow poaching by third parties into personal domains.
This information was published in the “LAWYERS CLUB OF INDIA” DATED 31/05/2011