Right to information sought has certain exceptions such as public interest, friendly relations with state and also personal information which does not have anything to do with the work. Right to privacy and right to seek information are two sides of a coin. Both are integral and important aspects which protects the democracy. State od U.P v. Raj Narain1 was one of the first cases where the judiciary uphold the importance of transparency in democracy. The Supreme Court held that the citizens of the country have the right to know the acts discharged by the public authorities. This information is protected under Article 19(1)(a) of Indian Constitution.
The right to information however, comes with certain exceptions. As some information are sensitive, personal or of greater importance for national security and friendly relations with other states. In People’s Union for Civil Liberties and Ors. V. Union of India (UOI) and Ors2. The court tried to comprehensively determine those information which are kind of exceptions. The court had also observed that though right to know is an indisputable right under Article 19(1)(a), there is a corresponding obligation. In this manner, the court observed the following information as exceptions to the right to information:
- International relations;
- National Security (including defence) and public safety;
- Investigation, detection and prevention of crime;
- Internal deliberations of the government;
- Information which is received in confidence from a source outside the government;
- Such information if disclosed, would violate the privacy of individual;
- Information of an economic nature, (including Trade Secrets) if disclosed, is likely to confer an unfair advantage on some person or concern, or, subject, some person or government to an unfair disadvantage;
- Information which is subject to professional privilege, e.g., communication between a legal adviser and the client; between a physician and the patient;
- Information about scientific discoveries.3
Yet another exception to the right to information is personal information. Section 8(1) (j) deals with the right to personal information sought, if the information sought is the information pertaining to an individual’s personal life which has no connection with any public activity or interest and the revealing of such information is likely to invade privacy of that concerned individual, such information cannot be asked for. However, if the Central/ State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority is of the view that such information is necessary for the larger public good then the information sought can be disclosed. Also the information which cannot be denied to Parliament or a State legislature can be accessed by the public without any restraint. For instance, if the information sought is for clarifying the doubt regarding the integrity of any person occupying the public place, then the financial assets and liabilities of such person becomes necessary for disclosure. Another example is, if there is any allegation as to the appointment of a person to a public post then inquiry will be done as to his qualification/ experience and other allied matters. Thus, the above mentioned examples becomes an exception to exception which can be confusing but if the provisions are understood properly one is less likely to make any mistake while filing an application.
The expression ‘personal information’ includes information regarding the person’s address, physical and mental status, financial status, hobbies, interests etc. These are confidential in nature when it has nothing to do with the acts of public nature. Here, ‘public interest’ means the interest of the community in general. To conclude, these exceptions play a vital role in protecting certain confidential or sensitive information which does not have anything to do with the nature of work done. Thereby, one must be aware of these exceptions in order to file a correct and useful application to gain access to the information public in nature. Thus, Right to information is only limited to the extend it does not evade a person’s privacy and this right comes with a corresponding obligation.
- (1975) AIR 865 (SC).
- AIR 2003, SC 2363.
- Rajul Jain, Exceptions to the right to information, LEGAL BITES, (Oct 25, 2021, 6: 29 pm), https://www.legalbites.in/exceptions-to-the-right-to-information-rti-exceptions-I/.