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Centre exempts CERT-In from ambit of RTI Act

  • Published
    25th Nov, 2023
Context:

According to the latest update, the Central government has exempted the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) from the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

About the information:
  • The CERT-IN, which functions under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, is the national nodal agency for responding to computer security incidents.
  • It has also been tasked to perform emergency measures for handling cyber security incidents besides issuing guidelines and advisories for their prevention.
  • The Personnel Ministry has amended Section 24 of the RTI Act and put “Indian Computer Emergency Response Team” or CERT-In under the list of organisations exempted from the purview of the RTI law.

There are already 26 intelligence and security organisations, which are exempted from providing information under the RTI Act except for matters related to the allegations of corruption and human rights violations.

Which are the other organisations being exempted from the RTI law?

  • The organisations exempted under the RTI Act includes;
  • The Intelligence Bureau,
  • Research and Analysis Wing,
  • Directorate of Revenue Intelligence,
  • Aviation Research Centre and
  • Enforcement Directorate, among others.

What are the criteria to get an exclusion/exemption from RTI’s ambit?

  • Section 8(1) of RTI Act, lists all of the exemptions:
    • Information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the security, sovereignty and integrity of India;
    • information which may constitute contempt of court;
    • information that would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or the State Legislature;
    • information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information;
    • 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;
    • information received in confidence from foreign government;
    • information, the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person;
    • information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders;
    • cabinet papers including records of deliberations, which come under the specified exemptions;
    • Information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has not relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy.

Others Situations of Relaxation:

  • According to the Section 8(1)(g) of RTI Act : If the disclosure would endanger the life and physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes, then public authority is exempted from disclosure of such information.
  • Meaning of LIFE under Article 21 is given an expansive and liberal construction such as to include, the right to live with dignity, right to shelter, right to basic needs and even the right to reputation. This meaning is applicable for section 8(1)(g) the RTI Act.
  • ‘PHYSICAL SAFETY’ means the likelihood of assault to physical existence of a person.
  • Information putting an individual's safety or liberty at risk, e.g., the identity of people who blow the whistle on corruption inside their organization should be protected, because otherwise they may be targeted for discrimination or even violence.
  • Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act :
  • Public authority is not under obligation to furnish information that would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders.
  • Definition of “investigation? under CrPC can be applicable for RTI Act also. It would mean all actions of law enforcement, disciplinary proceedings, enquiries, adjudications and so on.

Right to Information (RTI Act) 2005:

  • The RTI Act empowers citizens to seek time-bound information on governance-related matters from government organisations by filing an application.
  • The objectives of the Right to Information Act 2005: To encourage transparency in all public bodies. To ensure accountability in public and government bodies.

Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019:

  • It provided that the Chief Information Commissioner and an Information Commissioner (of Centre as well as States) shall hold office for such term as prescribed by the Central Government.
  • Before this amendment, their term was fixed for 5 years.
  • It provided that the salary, allowances and other service conditions of the Chief Information Commissioner and an Information Commissioner (of Centre as well as States) shall be such as prescribed by the Central Government.
  • Before this amendment, the salary, allowances and other service conditions of the Chief Information Commissioner were similar to those of the Chief Election Commissioner and that of an Information Commissioner were similar to those of an Election Commissioner (State Election Commissioners in case of States).
  • It removed the provisions regarding deductions in salary of the Chief Information Commissioner, an Information Commissioner, the State Chief Information Commissioner and a State Information Commissioner due to pension or any other retirement benefits received by them for their previous government service.
  • The RTI (Amendment) Act, 2019 was criticized on grounds of diluting the law and giving more powers to the central government.

Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In):

  • The constituency of CERT-In is the Indian Cyber Community.
  • CERT-In is the national nodal agency for responding to computer security incidents as and when they occur.
  • CERT-In has been designated to serve as the national agency to perform the following functions in the area of cyber security:
    • Collection, analysis and dissemination of information on cyber incidents.
    • Forecast and alerts of cyber security incidents
    • Emergency measures for handling cyber security incidents
    • Coordination of cyber incident response activities.
    • Issue guidelines, advisories, vulnerability notes and whitepapers relating to information security practices, procedures, prevention, response and reporting of cyber incidents.
    • Such other functions relating to cyber security as may be prescribed.
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