Passport information should be disclosed under RTI: CIC

NEW DELHI, May 6: Information provided by a person while applying for passport can be disclosed under the Right to Information Act, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has held.

“Given our dismal record of mis-governance and rampant corruption which collude to deny citizens their essential rights and dignity, it is in the fitness of things that the Citizen’s Right to Information is given greater primacy with regard to privacy,” Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said while ordering the disclosure.

The case relates to an RTI application filed by one Anita Singh who sought copies of documents annexed by one Ajeet Pratap Singh while applying for his passport, besides other details about the application.

The External Affairs Ministry stated that third party information cannot be disclosed without taking the views of the party and since the present residential information of the applicant was not known, it would not be possible to take his views and disclose the details sought under the RTI Act.

“The Commission rules that if the third party’s address is not located it does not mean the citizen’s right to information would disappear. Section-11 is a procedural requirement that gives third party an opportunity to voice and objection in releasing the information,” he said.

Gandhi said the procedure of Section 11 comes into effect if the Public Information Officer (PIO) believes that the information exists and is not exempted, and the third party has treated it as confidential.

“Section 11 does not give a third party an unrestrained veto to refuse disclosing information. It clearly anticipates situations where the PIO will not agree with the claim for non-disclosure by a third party and provides for a appeal to be made by the third party against disclosure, which would have been unnecessary, if the third party had been given a veto against disclosure,” he said.

On the question of invasion of privacy, Gandhi said the state has no right to invade the privacy of an individual. “However, there are some extraordinary situations where the state may be allowed to invade the privacy of a citizen”.

“In those circumstances special provisions of the law apply—usually with certain safeguards. Therefore, where the state routinely obtains information from citizens, this information is in relationship to a public activity and will not be an intrusion on privacy,” he said.

Gandhi said the Supreme Court has ruled that citizens have a right to know about charges against candidates for elections as well as details of their assets, since they desire to offer themselves for public service.

“It is obvious then that those who are public servants can not claim exemption from disclosure of charges against them or details of their assets. In view of this, the Commission does not accept the PIO’s contention that information provided by an applicant when applying for passport is exempt under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act,” he said. (PTI)