Is ‘marriage’ a piece of ‘personal information’ under RTI?
The way the notion of ‘privacy’ is getting a raw treatment by the media has made us sit upright and think of the meaning of ‘privacy’ in the changing world. Traditionally, privacy has been defined as preventing intrusions into one's physical space or solitude. It is the right of an individual or a group to be left alone. A spate of recent cases whether it be the Nira Radia case or the Manu Sanghvi case has blurred the boundary of public and private. Of course, the concept of privacy, per se, has always been influenced by the culture, time, and technology. It is a dynamic concept which has changed its form.
The United States has been the leading force in promoting the concept of privacy. Perhaps, the first time when privacy was advocated in the United States was through an article by Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis, titled “The Right to Privacy” (1890), which was written in response to the increase in photographs and newspapers that was made possible by newer technologies of printing.
Technology has taken a giant leap since then and is in the process of developing further. In the era of mobile phones with high resolution cameras with the technology which can send a MMS in a fraction of a second, it is difficult to define what a private space is.
A recent case of RTI application seeking information about the marriage of a MLA, HD Kumaraswamy, has again ignited the debate of where to draw a boundary for defining privacy. It was claimed that though Mr Kumaraswamy is legally wedded to Anita, who is a member of Karnataka assembly, he has also secretly tied the knot with actress Radhika and has a daughter with her. It has been reported that he has lately accepted this fact.
A RTI activist had filed a query seeking rules and regulations pertaining to submission of personal information of Members of Parliament (MPs) and the actions to be taken against them in case they fail to furnish all details. The PIO (Public Information Officer) agreed to the argument made by Mr. Kumaraswamy that whether or not he furnishes the details of his alleged (second) marriage and the assets his wife and children, is his “personal matter”. Such an action raises a large number of question :- Isn’t marriage is a “personal matter”? Can having more than one wife be labeled as a personal matter? Can a MP violate the Hindu Marriage Act that prohibits polygamy and still claim privacy as a defence? Does a second marriage and non-disclosure of assets by a MP necessitate disqualification? When 'celebrities' have their 'swayamwar' and choose their life partners in the full glare of the media, how private does the function remain?
As the concept of privacy evolves and takes a firm shape, the jigsaw puzzle of these questions would be solved. It is high time that the government puts up the privacy bill before the parliament for debate which hopefully would answer the questions.