Transparency Vs Privacy of Individuals – UPSC GS2

An open and transparent government that also respects every citizen’s right to privacy is not a contradiction rather a fundamental requirement of good governance in the country.
  • Bombay High Court order directed government to take down address of Right to Information (RTI) applicant from its website, leading to the debate of personal privacy vs right to information.
Right to Privacy vs Right to Information:
  • Examples where the individual address is treated as public:
    • public telephone directories,
    • voter lists,
    • beneficiaries address in the social welfare program.
  • Judicial interpretation:
    • Justice S. Puttaswamy (Retd) vs Union Of India (2017):
      • Any state action has to be justified based on the four-pronged test:
(1) Backed by Law ->
(2) Legitimate State Purpose ->
(3) Rational Action ->
(4) Infringement is necessary and proportionate to purpose
  • Allahabad high court’s observation: Following Puttaswamy, the Court found that the Uttar Pradesh government’s action of public display of personal details of accused in CAA protests as ‘unwarranted interference in the privacy of people’.
Legislative framework: Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act
  • Disallows disclosure that would cause an unwarranted invasion of privacy.
  • Allows disclosure subject to the public information officer making a case by case judgment on whether the larger public interest is served by disclosing such personal information.
Disclosure of Individual address: 
  • Is against the public interest
  • There is a significant public interest in not disclosing the personal information of RTI applicants as may make them the target of violence and retaliation.
Conclusion: Protection of privacy for individual citizens and transparency of public authorities are two sides of the same coin. An open and transparent government that also guarantees, respects, protects, promotes, and fulfils every citizen’s right to privacy should be the norm for participative governance.

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