Mahendra Kumar Jain
State of West Bengal and Others
W.P.A 18543 of 2022
Decided on September 29, 2022, [Last Heard on: 23.09.2022]
In a significant development for right to privacy, the Calcutta High Court has held that WhatsApp chats and photographs collected during a police investigation cannot be disclosed under the RTI Act, 2005. A writ petition was filed by the father of the deceased Rashika Jain seeking a restraint on the disclosure of the WhatsApp chats between his late daughter and her friend Abhishek Padia under the RTI Act, 2005, with reference to an ongoing police case. On 29th September 2022, the High Court observed that the deceased cannot defend oneself against any such unwarranted intrusion into her private space and she has the right to be left alone (or with others) and a person should be allowed to carry his/her secrets to the grave.
The present case brings to the fore the significance of section 8(1)(j) of The Right to Information Act where the unhindered right to information is checked by keeping certain information out of reach from the public eye. In such cases, the consent of the other (living) party to the disclosure of the information may not be relevant for the purposes of section 8(1)(j) of the Act. The Information Officer is given the onerous task of determining whether the information should remain in the private domain or is required to be disclosed in the larger public interest. The Information Officer is hence under an obligation to satisfy the aforesaid test.
The High Court, inter alia, directed the Police Authorities to immediately withdraw the entire series of photographs and WhatsApp messages and treat the same as private information which falls within the clamp of section 8(1)(j) of The Right to Information Act. The authorities are to ensure that the WhatsApp messages and the photographs are not disclosed to any person or authority by way of an application under the Right to Information Act or otherwise.
The father of the deceased victim (Rashika Jain) was represented by Mr. Kalyan Bandopadhyay, Sr. Advocate and the team of Fox & Mandal led by Mr.Debanjan Mandal, Managing Partner, Mr. Ajay Agarwal, Partner, Mr. Sanket Sarawgi, Senior Associate and Mr. Arka Banerjee, Associate.