NEW DELHI (TIP): The Prime Minister’s Office has denied an RTI plea to access a note written by national security adviser (NSA) Shivshankar Menon reportedly calling for a new strategy to get access to data that governments in advanced countries collect by monitoring the use of websites by Indians. The government said disclosure would prejudicially impact India’s foreign relations with countries. The internal note reportedly written by the NSA — “cyber security challenges that India is facing and the way forward” — outlines a strategy on how countries use data and the legal basis for acquiring such data from service providers. The note is also reported to have called for developing standard operating procedures for security cooperation in cyberspace with major IT powers around the globe. The denial was in response to an RTI application by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative’s Venkatesh Nayak. In its reply, the PMO said, “Your request for a copy of the note reportedly authored by Shivshankar Menon, NSA on the matter of ‘cyber security challenges facing India’ was considered in the PMO.
The CPIO, PMO held that disclosure of the information sought would prejudicially affect the security and strategic interests of the state and relations with foreign states. As such, exemption from disclosure was claimed under section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act.” Upholding the PIO’s order, the appellate authority said the CIC had in a previous order (Nusli Wadia vs ministry of external affairs) said that it was “within the exclusive domain of the ministry to decide and determine as to whether such disclosure is likely to have any impact on India’s relations with a foreign state or not. We may only determine whether the public authority in question has arrived at this conclusion after the exercise of due diligence”.’ CHRI’s Nayak said, “While the government is worried about getting access to data about how we use the Internet under the pretext of being prepared to fight terrorism, a very legitimate concern no doubt, in the age of the RTI Act, the government does not believe in taking its own people into confidence to explain what it is doing on this issue.” He has filed an appeal with the Central Information Commission arguing that since the strategy deals with monitoring a common citizen’s internet usage and, in turn his privacy, the issue must be discussed in the public domain.