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In a rather bewildering tweet today, Madhu Kishwar asked, "Do champions of #RightToPrivacy realise that if 2 women hadn't complained, #babaRamRahim doings in his "Gufa"covered under right to privacy?" The tweet was so absurd that she was met with a barrage of retorts and taunts by people she was taunting.

I guess if we are a country just growing into our rights, there will be a lot of debates of this sort needed, where clear talking will help more than sarcasm at someone's ignorance. It also isn't an alien concept. We have a right to privacy already. Whether it was stated or not, we had protection against someone violating our space. That is how stalking or spy cams or leaking passwords and such is already illegal, even though the right itself was explicitly stated just recently. The world has not changed all that much in terms of what is "right" and "wrong". Privacy cannot make criminal things legit all of a sudden. That was just propaganda to influence the case into denying our right. Even the government now agrees we have a right to privacy. What has changed is for those whose privacy gets invaded by powerful players like big companies or the government (this judgment emerged directly from a constitutional challenge to Aadhaar on the grounds of privacy), who have the power to fudge an unstated right and interpret it to convenience. Now that it is explicit, they will no longer be able to fudge easily.

What the right to privacy will actually entail and exclude as per law will soon be determined, but the general meaning of the term endorses the right of a person to withhold or reveal information about themselves. There is also an implicit requirement that information revealed in confidence must not be shared beyond the purpose it was explicitly authorized for. This is the rock Aadhaar will flounder on - a mandatory and unaccountable database of private information on citizens cannot coexist with even the most shoddily defined privacy. And this 9 judge bench has given a most excellent verdict. But I digress.

Publicly available information is not covered by the right to privacy. For example, board results (because there seem to be a lot of jokes about keeping marksheets private from parents). You may refuse to reveal, but if the information is public, they will have access to it anyway. Certifications (no, the Prime Minister and Smriti Irani's degrees don't get covered by privacy either - they have stated the information themselves, what they are refusing to do is provide proofs for officially filed documents). This also goes for information submitted as proofs, etc. For example, if you have to provide proof of address to start a bank account, your right to privacy does not include starting a bank account without proof of residence. But yes, it definitely includes an obligation on the bank to not share it with third parties or use it for purposes other than verifying your address (for example, sending credit card spam).

As a fundamental right, Ram Rahim still has the right to privacy. Just because he is a convicted rapist does not mean you can make personal and confidential information about him public without his consent (public functions are public). The access to personal information can also be mandated for various reasons - This is where the grey areas lie. You have a right to withhold your bank balance and what you spend your money on from me, but do you have the right to withhold it from the income tax department? The standard understanding is no, because tax is your duty as a citizen. Others, more extreme argue that we voluntarily provide our information to the tax authorities and others don't and choose to be raided instead. The government will, no doubt soon be launching some form of propaganda to create a way to impose Aadhaar in spite of the recent clobbering in court through such grey areas. But it won't be easy, because there really is no way to prove that the information is necessary in the manner knowing income would be directly necessary to assess income tax. It is still not arbitrary or unlimited. you need warrants, to enter and search premises, for example. You can't randomly check whoever you suspect.You have to prove the need for it and get a warrant.

Similarly, your right to privacy is about you having the right to reveal at your discretion what personal information you choose to share. To apply that to sex and rape, it would protect homosexuals, for example. That is why they got all excited about the clarity of the wording. Or at least those who are not engaging in "unnatural sex" in a situation that could be called "public", unless one of them revealed their "crime". Short of homosexuality explicitly being legal, this is considerably better than their previous precarious position of not knowing what boundaries and personal rights they could count on. However, it doesn't protect Ram Rahim from his two victims who complained, because as their personal experience, the victims were perfectly entitled to reveal it to anyone they wished - even if it were consensual. And it wasn't, which makes it a flat out crime. Crimes are mostly private. But if there is enough evidence of it or a complaint, an investigation will attempt to access all relevant information. The most robustly defined right to privacy in the world cannot protect a rapist from conviction if his crime is proved and it cannot prevent an investigation against an accused either. It is a thin edge of what is a legit investigation or ethical whistleblowing and what is a breach of privacy - which is why exposes are so often accompanied by defamation suits.

Right to privacy is a right of persons, not organizations. If it were not the victims and a third party who came to know about the rapes and complained, the action being illegal would make it count as whistleblowing.

Organizations too can have requirements of confidentiality, but they don't have a right to information about them requiring consent to be shared - because they aren't people. Confidentiality requirements of organizations are usually explicit. There are things you can talk about (work timings, coffee maker sucks) and things you can't (trade secrets, business strategies). If the organization was willing to own the rapes as official business of the organization and not a crime that could not be revealed without breaching confidentiality agreements, they are free to sue the whistleblower or the complainants, but a crime that gets exposed remains a crime. An organization that claims it to be its official business would be a criminal organization.

This is also why you have (and need better) whistleblower protection laws - so that confidentiality cannot be used as an excuse to cover up crimes and persecute whistleblowers.

Hope all is clear now.

Arun Jaitley's advocate, Pratibha Singh has sent a legal notice to blogger Prashant Panday and Arun Jaitley has posted it on his personal website as well. The blogger had made certain accusations about Jaitley's finances.

I think this is a good thing. Not the practice of sending notices to bloggers to shut them up, but the act of a politician challenging accusations of corruption himself without letting them fester and blow up into rumor mills. Of course, exposing corruption runs the risk of angering people, and a legal notice serves nicely as a weapon to try and get a corruption expose taken offline. We saw it on my blog when I got a notice over an expose I had made. So it is not as if I don't understand what happens to the blogger who cannot afford to fight legal battles.

Firstly, I believe that blogging is conversations. It is an important voice for people, but there is no logic in assuming a blogger is always correct or in dismissing the harm done to a person who is on the receiving end of bad publicity. Asserting a blogger's right to say whatever he wants regardless of the consequences to another is not a responsible call, in my opinion. Particularly when the article is published in a newspaper. As the notice states, it was published on the Times of India website as well as getting picked by a newspaper in Tripura. The Times of India piece seems to be taken down, but the Tripura one is still available online. There is no telling where else it has spread, since newspaper content does spread like wildfire.

While I am against the arbitrary imposition of a 48 hour deadline for taking down content that can be imposed by anyone at large, I am not against demanding accountability from content itself. There is no such thing as the right to slander. And inventing it will be dangerous to a country that thrives on polarization, not to mention the overall quality of information where stakes are high. This is a stand I have taken fairly consistently regardless of which political party is accused or doing the accusing.

A whistleblower ought to have documents that back up his accusations, without which it becomes malicious gossip. And the hate between political parties as well as parties basing their entire existence on anticorruption is such that a person with proofs against a politician getting a legal notice cannot be silenced as easily. Worse, the internet smelling injustice has a way of decimating attempts to silence it. The content targetted for removal would get a wider audience instead. Unlike the common man of India, the common netizen of India isn't that easily silenced.

Even in the case where the issue is not as high TRP as a politician, a whistleblower who has proofs can simply present them as proof that he is not defaming. It is not defamation if you can prove it true. My reply to the notice had presented the sources for my claims and the matter ended there. I did take down the original post for fear of legal harrassment, but I believe that if I had the time (which I don't, for personal circumstances), I could also have defended it in court, which is something that is highly unlikely to pan out if your expose is genuine. No one wants to prove themselves corrupt to avoid a blogpost.

Now look at the rest of the scene. Politicians are ganging up to avoid RTI into political parties. Our sources of accurate information are severely restricted. In such a situation, a legal notice such as this actually helps clarify the issue, in my opinion. There are claims the person is making on record. If those can be proved wrong, the whole matter becomes much simpler - in the case of a corrupt politician. If the notice makes explanations that make the sources of the accusation of corruption wrong in some manner, then it is a clarification got at relatively less effort. In any case, the accused person responding to the accusation on record has to be a plus if the objective is against corruption rather than a PR war.

Also, I think given the deteriorating standards of journalism, demanding accountability from content that can make or break the reputation of a politician in the run up to elections is hardly unreasonable. I hope that this sets off a flurry of notices against mass media by politicians who would like to set the record straight. This is also what I thought about the allegations of US citizenship of our new RBI governor Raghuram Rajan. These things must be on record and clear as a matter of transparency. It should not be a matter of either silencing a blogger/journalist or defending a politician.

In my view such actions will be very welcome in today's vile political scenario which thrives on disinformation and mud singing. They will help the common man separate manipulation from facts and empower democracy.

In my view, politicians themselves addressing accusations of corruption with any visibility will go a long way toward getting some answers while we figure out how to get the RTI working.

4

There is big attention to corruption these days. People are exhorted to stop supporting corruption, to blow the whistle when they witness corruption, etc. At the same time, after much noise, few are actually doing it.

After much thinking, I concluded that it was because:

  • Corruption provides some advantage.
  • Corruption makes things easier by bypassing lengthier processes.
  • Bribes allow an unfavorable authority to be converted into a more pleasing one. Most people dislike being in the wrong.
  • Fighting corruption is inconvenient at best and can be downright dangerous as stakes get higher. Everything from character assassinations to actual assassinations can become possible in retaliation. There is little motivation for a person to get himself into added work or actual trouble because of what "should" be.

I think that till these fundamental blocks can be addressed, the number of people making an effort against corruption (as opposed to verbally supporting anti-corruption) will always remain low. There is too much deterrent and too little motivation.

In my observation, going against the tide happens for three main reasons - fun, profit and survival. Whether the going against tide is breaking laws, or preventing them from being broken.

Fun

This is important. This includes the thrill of power - of beating odds, of being hero, whatever. It is a psychological high.

Profit

Be it giving bribes or selling National property cheap, profit is another big motivator. Everyone needs money, whether they need it or not.

Survival

People under threat will do anything to destroy the threat. This is less related with corruption and more in the zone of terrorism, security, and such. In a few cases, could be assosicated with going bankrupt, for example, but rare.

To combat corruption, the first two levels must be leveraged effectively to create strong motivation and overcome reluctance.

Some ways I see this easily possible are through media and government policies.

Media

Media has the power to direct attention, to create momentary heroes, to create a feeling of being appreciated and respected. The "fun" factor. There should be media shows making heroes out of whistle blowers, showing "best stings of the week" kind of stuff. Description of two kinds of shows as examples:

Truth seeker of the week

Interview with a whistle blower or RTI activist or such who has helped crack some big wrong doing. Hearing the story from him/her, showing any clips or photographs or graphics applicable, etc. Possibly more than one 2-3 per show, if it turns out footage is not enough (though I don't see how footage can not be enough with an interview 😀 )

Top Ten Stings

A programme that solicits sting videos from the public. Hidden camera footage of bribes, etc. With short commentary of the whole story, and following the count down pattern.. "and this weeks number one sting is the shocking expose of ... blah blah"

Newspapers can do similar stuff with whistle blowing information that leads to arrest, for example. A weekly column of some or the other wrong set right because of a citizen hero. These are just ideas - our media is far better than my limited imagination at creating sensational news 😉

And it is a win win. The bad guy being brought down by the common man is never going to go out of TRPs.

This kind of heroism associated with truth seeking will go a long way to prevent social discrimination against truth seekers for rocking boats, will encourage more people to become heroes when they realize that people respect these actions.

And the reluctance to be the bad guy by challenging wrong doing (which is a sorry truth) will be replaced or at least diminished by knowing that their action will be valued.

Government Policies

Investigating corruption isn't an initiative as is being pimped so loudly. Investigating corruption is enforcing the country's laws. We need initiatives that encourage fighting corruption.

Awards on a National, state, regional level is one possibility, but sadly, there will be fears of corruption in their allocation. We are in an extremely insecure or rather paranoid phase about corruption.

But what can easily be done NOW is to provide a percentage of the money saved or the estimated value of whatever crime is prevented as a direct and confidential deposit into the bank account of the whistle blower. EVERY revealing of wrongdoing/breaking of law should be considered as whistle blowing - without exemption. We also need to consider setting aside a budget for witness protection programmes for people who are in danger as a result of their service to the country. The whistle blower's bill passed in the Lok Sabha yesterday, so that is a good move too. This needs to be done in addition - an amendment might be good.

When corruption comes under attack, all the processes it smoothens for people will become sores, and proper solutions can be created for them where legitimate.

Yeah, that is it. If fighting corruption will lead to fun and profit, like corruption leads to fun and profit, then the ground is level for the challenge and the desire for a better world will empower change rather than frustrated talk.