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RTI Judgement Series: Can a person invade his own privacy?

Overruling the PIO’s claim for exemption citing Section 8(1) (j), the CIC said it was unthinkable how a person can invade his own privacy. This is the 61st in a series of important judgements given by former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi that can be used or quoted in an RTI application

The Central Information Commission (CIC), while allowing an appeal, directed the Public Information Officer (PIO) of Employees State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) to provide annual confidential reports (ACRs) to the appellant.

 

While giving this important judgement on 13 July 2010, Shailesh Gandhi, the then Central Information Commissioner said, “It is very clear that Section 8(1)(j) is meant to protect the privacy of an individual where disclosure may affect the right to privacy of an individual. It is unthinkable how a person can invade his own privacy. Any human being has the complete right to know about himself or herself and the argument that a person can invade his or her own privacy is untenable.”

 

Kolkata resident Dr Partha Pratim Biswas, on 8 October 2009, sought information about his ACRs from the PIO of ESIC. Here is the information he sought...

 

1. Annual Confidential Reports for the years from 2000 to 2007 (eight years) including the names and remarks of reporting and reviewing/grading officers.

2. Files relating to promotion from CMO to NFSG as per DPC held in December 2008 for inspection.

3. Minutes of DPC held in December 2008.

 

Here is the reply given by the PIO...
 

Year/ Period

Remarks of the Reporting Officer

Remarks of the Reviewing officer

2000-2001

Good

Good

2001- 31/03/2002

Very Good

Very Good

2002-31/03/2003

Good

Good

2003-2004

Good

Good

2004-2005

Very Good

Very Good

2005-2006

Good

Good

2006-2007

Average

Average

 

 

Dr Biswas, not satisfied with the reply given by the PIO, filed his first appeal. However, the First Appellate Authority (FAA) did not pass any order.

 

He then approached the CIC with his second appeal. During the hearing, the Commission observed that the PIO denied the information claiming exemption under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.

 

Under Section 8 (1)(j) information, exemption of information is defined as:

“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:”

 

Mr Gandhi, the then CIC, noted that Section 8(1)(j) is meant to protect the privacy of an individual where disclosure may affect the right to privacy of an individual. “It is unthinkable how a person can invade his own privacy. Any human being has the complete right to know about himself or herself and the argument that a person can invade his or her own privacy is untenable,” he said.

 

The PIO then stated that he would like to claim exemption under Section 8(1)(e) and 8(1)(g).

 

Section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act exempts from disclosure “information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information”.

 

The CIC said, all relationships usually have an element of trust, but all of them cannot be classified as fiduciary. Information provided in discharge of a statutory requirement or to obtain a job or to get a license, cannot be considered to have been given in a fiduciary relationship. “The reporting officers were clearly performing a job in discharge of their official duties and it cannot be claimed that they gave the annual confidential reports to the public authority for their own benefit or that they had any choice in the matter. Hence the claim that Section 8(1)(e) applies is not tenantable,” the Commission said.

 

Section 8(1)(g) exempts, “information, the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes”.

 

The Commission said it finds the claim of Section 8(1)(g) as being almost derogatory for the organization itself. “It implies that if an employee learns about a senior officer having passed certain remarks which will affect the employee of the public authority, such employees are likely to endanger the physical safety of the senior officer. It this is a true assessment of the employees of an organization, it is indeed a sad comment because employees of an organization may endanger the physical safety of the reporting/reviewing officer,” it said.

 

Mr Gandhi said, “The Commission does not finds this as a reasonable argument and unless there are clear grounds which can be quoted with some certainty the fundamental right of a citizen under Right to Information cannot be abrogated. The PIO has quoted certain decisions of the Commission in file nos. CIC/MA/A/2008/00786, CIC/MA/A/2008/00578 and CIC/MA/A/2008/00533 to justify his denial of information. The Commission does not find any justification for supporting the grounds quoted by the PIO in these decisions.”

 

The Commission also pointed out that the Supreme Court had also held that the ACRs of any employee must be given to him.

 

Mr Gandhi the allowed the appeal and directed the PIO to provide copies of the ACRs to Dr Biswas before 30 July 2010.

 

CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION

 

Decision No. CIC/SG/A/2010/001440/8498

http://www.rti.india.gov.in/cic_decision/CIC_SG_A_2010_001440_8498_M_37680.pdf

Appeal No. CIC/SG/A/2010/001440

 

 

Appellant                                            : Dr Partha Pratim Biswas,

                                                            Kolkata 700061

 

Respondent                                        : BD Sharma

                                                                CPIO & Director

                                                               Employees State Insurance Corporation

                                                               Panchdeep Bhawan, CIG Road,

                                                               New Delhi 02

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