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Paradigm Shifts Information Age

Information is Power

 

Issue Dated: January 9, 2011
Tags : RTI |NREGA |MMS |Power | Government | Thirdly |
 

In modern democracies, though we call them ‘democracies’, the power of the state over the lives of the people is extraordinary. The power that the government enjoys gives them legitimate or illegitimate control and that is so much of power that it creates scope for arbitrariness and wrongdoing. Therefore, it is extremely important that the people have a right to know how they are being governed. On one hand, there is every attempt by the government to withhold information – that is what power is about – on the other hand, there is constant conflict with people asking for more information.
The second development of our times is the Information Technology revolution that has taken place. If someone has access to any information today, it just takes a few seconds to broadcast it to the rest of the world. Before the Internet was around, one would actually depend on the media to publish – who may or may not do it. So, even if I had some extraordinary information, and if the media blacked it out, I would have no means to reach out to the people. Thirdly, technology that is facilitating this access to information is handier today. Like what is used in telephone tapping etc. This huge hunger for information in people, encouraged by technology, and speedy broadcast, all put together herald exciting times. 

RTI abuse?
Information is power and if that information is in the exclusive domain of some people, it stands to be abused. So, the best way to prevent its misuse is to broadcast it to as many people as possible. For example, if an officer has done something wrong, and I as an individual file an RTI application and get relevant information, then I can use it to blackmail that officer, if I chose to. These kinds of misuses have been reported from many places. The best way to deal with it is that as soon as you give some information to an individual, you also put it up on the website so the individual citizen won’t be able to blackmail an officer. 

Threat to privacy?
You cannot compromise with public interest and then claim individual privacy. If somebody is corrupt, he is actually compromising the right to life of several individuals. For example, people don’t get ration; many don’t get employment under NREGA because some people indulge in corruption. Now on one hand, it is the right to life which is at stake and on the other hand corrupt people claim their right to privacy. Which is more important?
In the case of the recent MediaGate, I believe nobody can privately sit down and conspire against the people of this country and then claim privacy. In case there are any extremely personal conversations where they are not just talking of politics and policies, those parts must be expunged but the rest of it must be made public. Even Wikileaks is all about government information; government to government contracts. No constitution guarantees privacy to institutions, it’s only of individuals.
There have been of course several cases where individual privacy has been compromised, for instance, MMS scandals are about that, or other incidents involving hidden cameras. Those dangers are certainly there, but the law needs to steel up for that. 

No secrets
Former Information Commissioner Dr O P Kejariwal, in one of his speeches, said that after some of the records of Second World War were declassified, the information turned out to be of the nature that, he claimed, had it been made public at that point of time, the Second World War would not have happened. So if everything became public, it would be impossible for two countries to go to war with each other. 

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017