Question: Which of the following statement is incorrect regarding Official Secrets Act?
1) An ‘Official Secrets Act’ is designed to keep certain kinds of information confidential information involving the affairs of state, diplomacy, national security
2) India’s Official Secrets Act (OSA) dates back to 1923, unsurprisingly a creation of the colonial regime
3) The primary critique of the Act is that it flips the constitutive logic of a democratic republic, where the state is supposed to be transparent to its citizens
4) The scope of the Right to Information Act diluted by the ‘Official Secrets Act’
- Remarks made by the Attorney-General in the Supreme Court on March 6, 2019 of looking into “criminal action” against those responsible for making “stolen documents” on the Rafale deal public, have brought the Official Secrets Act into focus.
Meaning of OSA:
- An ‘Official Secrets Act’ is a generic term that is used to refer to a law — originally invented by the British, and then exported across the Commonwealth — that is designed to keep certain kinds of information confidential, including, but not always limited to, information involving the affairs of state, diplomacy, national security, espionage and other state secrets.
- India’s Official Secrets Act (OSA) dates back to 1923, unsurprisingly a creation of the colonial regime.
- The 1923 Act includes penalties for spying (which, in turn, includes even “approaching” or being “in the vicinity of” a prohibited place, publishing any “sketch” or “plan” that might be useful to the enemy, with a prejudicial purpose.).
- It punished people who knowingly receive such information — a provision clearly designed to capture investigative journalism.
- The primary drawback of the Act is that it flips the constitutive logic of a democratic republic, where the state is supposed to be transparent to its citizens.
OSA relation to RTI:
- The scope of the OSA has been somewhat diluted, thanks to the Right to Information Act. Section 22 of the RTI Act expressly says it overrides the OSA.
Future of OSA:
- As recently as 2006, the Home Ministry recommended substantial changes to the OSA, in line with the privacy regime established by the RTI. From time to time, there are calls to repeal the OSA and replace it with a National Security Act that is more consistent with the aspirations of an open, democratic republic.
By Achyutanand Pandey