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To serve the governed: on Official Secrets Act

Recently in the Supreme Court, the government threatened to invoke the Official Secrets Act against two publications that had run reports on the Rafale deal, on the basis of documents which, the government claimed, had been stolen from the Defence Ministry.

About Official Secrets Act (OSA)

  •  Official Secrets Act (OSA) has its roots in the British colonial era.
  • The original version was The Indian Official Secrets Act (Act XIV), 1889. This was brought in with the main objective of muzzling the voice of a large number of newspapers that had come up in several languages, and were opposing the Raj’s policies, building political consciousness and facing police crackdowns and prison terms.
  • It was amended and made more stringent in the form of The Indian Official Secrets Act, 1904, during Lord Curzon’s tenure as Viceroy of India. In 1923, a newer version was notified. The Indian Official Secrets Act (Act No XIX of 1923) was extended to all matters of secrecy and confidentiality in governance in the country.
  • OSA mainly deals with spying or espionage
  • OSA broadly deals with two aspects — spying or espionage, covered under Section 3, and disclosure of other secret information of the government, under Section 5.
  • Secret information can be any official code, password, sketch, plan, model, article, note, document or information.
  • Under Section 5, both the person communicating the information, and the person receiving the information, can be punished.
  • It is the government’s discretion to decide what falls under the ambit of a “secret” document to be charged under OSA. It has often been argued that the law is in direct conflict with the Right to Information Act, 2005.
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