Excerpt from BBC Article – Published on Aug 14, 2023

The enactment of the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, a pivotal stride toward safeguarding Indians’ personal data, has raised concerns among privacy experts regarding its potential to weaken another landmark legislation, the Right to Information (RTI) Act. This new law, designed to oversee the collection, storage, and processing of personal data, has elicited apprehensions due to its perceived lack of safeguards against surveillance and its grant of excessive authority to the federal government.

Of particular concern is the alteration the legislation introduces to the RTI Act, which empowers citizens to access government data. The recent amendment exempts “personal information” from disclosure, impacting the extensive data sought under the RTI Act since its enactment in 2005. This change poses a significant challenge to the central purpose of the RTI Act – holding governments accountable, curbing corruption, and fostering transparency.

Critics argue that much of the information sought under the RTI Act contains elements of personal data, rendering the new legislation’s impact far-reaching. Anjali Bhardwaj, co-convenor of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, highlights that the essence of the RTI law rests on personal data to varying degrees.

The amendment has stirred a chorus of concerns from activists and legal experts. Madan Lokur, a former Supreme Court judge, asserts that this change will significantly weaken the RTI Act. While the previous implementation of the RTI law had its challenges, this amendment threatens to impede citizens’ ability to access crucial information.

The RTI Act, a symbol of transparency, encompasses a wide array of organizations, spanning government departments and even those indirectly financed by the government. Although certain exceptions exist, its default position prioritizes citizens’ access to information.

The Digital Personal Data Protection Bill’s alteration, however, supersedes this clause, permitting the denial of information related to “personal information,” potentially including data that identifies individuals. Shailesh Gandhi, a former Central Information Commissioner, points out that the new blanket ban on personal information lacks nuance.

Additionally, the bill includes provisions for substantial fines in cases of non-compliance, which may discourage officers from disclosing information related to personal data. This adds complexity to the situation, as even disclosing data in the public interest could become a risky endeavor.

While federal minister Ashwini Vaishnaw contends that the new law aligns with a 2017 Supreme Court ruling on privacy, concerns persist. Activists fear that the amendment will undermine their ability to seek information crucial for combating corruption and safeguarding citizens’ rights. As the intersection of privacy and transparency takes center stage, the balance between these fundamental rights remains a pressing concern.

To delve deeper into this topic, please read the full article on BBC.