Nepal | December 06, 2019

Amendment to right to privacy bill sought

Ram Kumar Kamat

Criminalisation of violation of privacy can scare journalists and lead to self-censorship

Kathmandu, September 8

Stakeholders say the new right to privacy bill should be amended to delist details related to public officers’ property, income, business, transactions and some other details of individuals from the right to privacy issues.

Executive Director of Freedom Forum Taranath Dahal said the new bill had criminalised violation of right to privacy which would harm the cause of press freedom and democracy.

Stating that criminalisation of right to privacy issues could also lead to self-censorship, Dahal said violation of privacy should be treated as a civil law violation.

He said the bill’s proposal to bar people from forwarding other’s emails should be removed and Section 16 (1) (2) and (3) of the bill should be amended to remove restrictions on journalists from snapping photos of others without their consent.

Senior advocates Surendra Kumar Mahto and Dinesh Tripathi said the new bill’s proposal to keep certain details of public officers, including those of their assets and academic qualifications, could provide them a shield to hide their unlawful acts.

“Private citizens’ privacy issues should be respected but why should the public officers be allowed to hide the details of their assets and  qualifications?” Tripathi wondered.

He said the bill’s proposal to bar   journalists from recording conversations between two and more people would harm the cause of democracy and good governance. “If a journalist thinks that somebody has a criminal nexus with somebody, then the journalist should have the  right to record his/her conversation. Press, being the fourth estate, must have this right to play its role of a watchdog effectively,” he argued.

Certain conducts and documents of public officers should always be matters of public scrutiny, he added.

Tripathi said that Section 21 of the bill should be amended to allow journalists to secretly monitor somebody’s activities if s/he is suspected of doing any unlawful activities or indulging in corruption.

Senior advocate Tripathi said the right to privacy bill unjustifiably barred the press from disclosing somebody’s criminal records.

“Corruption scandal involving former president of South Korea  Park Geun-hye was first exposed by a journalist, who somehow had access to her computer files stored on her laptop computer and nobody talked of jailing that journalist,” he said, and added, “The fact that I want to highlight here is that journalists’ acts should not be criminalised as long as they serve public interests.”

Senior advocate Mahto said the new bill contained more restrictive provisions for the press than those of the new penal code.

“This right to privacy bill allows  public officers to withhold information related to their data, assets, academic qualifications, health, citizenship, passports and voters identity cards which goes against the right to information,” he said and added that the government could use the provisions as a tool to suppress press freedom and the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

“Press should have no restriction in reporting issues of public interest and about the conduct of public officers and people’s  representatives,” he added.

Information Commission  Commissioner Kiran Pokharel said in a democracy right to privacy was as important
as the right to information, but no attempt should be made to hide information related to public interests in the name of right to privacy.

“If a private issue concerns the  public, then the press should have the right to report on such issues,” he said and added that if public officers and people’s representatives were allowed to shield their unlawful acts in the guise of right to privacy then it would be harmful for democracy.

Nepali Congress lawmaker Pushpa Bhusal said the new constitution had guaranteed press freedom and criminalisation of defamation and right to privacy issues were against the constitutional freedom which could easily be challenged in the court of law.

Bhusal said government ministers’ argument that the new penal code was a general law and it would not govern the conduct of the press was wrong.

“If the Criminal Code Act does not want to govern the work of mediapersons, then why did it propose penalty for certain things in the first place?” she wondered.

“The government must amend the penal code to address the concerns of journalists,” she added.

A version of this article appears in print on September 09, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.

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