Several Right to Information and Right to Privacy activists on Tuesday issued a statement condemning the amendments to the RTI Act proposed by a committee of experts under retired Supreme Court Justice BN Srikrishna. The signatories said that the draft Data Protection Bill, 2018 designed by the panel will “severely restrict the scope of the Act and adversely impact the ability of the people to access information”.

The activists said the Right to Information and Right to Privacy are two rights that need to be “carefully balanced” in order to strengthen democracy and constitutional freedom. However, they said, the committee has failed to develop a framework “harmonising the need to protect certain kinds of data with provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005”.

“Currently, in order to invoke Section 8(1) to deny personal information, at least one of these grounds has to be proven – information sought has no relationship to any public activity, or no relation to any public interest, or would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy,” the signatories said. They added that the proposed amendments replace these conditions with the formulation that personal information cannot be sought if it is “likely to do harm” and that such harm “outweighs public interest”. The activists also said that the definition of “harm” in the document was very broad.

“The proposal to amend the RTI Act through the Data Protection Bill, 2018, seems to have been hastily drafted based on an incorrect understanding of the RTI law,” they said. “The amendments proposed...will fundamentally weaken the RTI Act.”

The signatories said that they had previously highlighted the “lack of diversity in the composition of the committee and also the lack of transparency”. “Neither the recognition of the Right to Privacy, nor the enactment of a data protection law requires any amendment to the existing RTI law,” they added. “We therefore reject the proposed amendments.”