While exercising its constitutional power to ensure the guaranteed fundamental right of access to information, Pakistan Information Commission has issued directives to the apex regulator body of the telecom sector in the country to provide information that led to imposing a ban on social media platform TikTok within 10 days.
An order of the Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) cited that Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has been asked to provide details to the information seeker including; a total number of complaints received against TikTok; copies of the letters/emails sent to the TikTok management in this regard; copies of the letter(s)/email(s) received from the TikTok, and copies of the notes and minutes of the meeting in which it was decided to ban the TikTok.
According to details, one information seeker Nadeem Umer has approached the PTA to get information regarding the TikTok ban. Initially, the PTA refused to share the requested information as the information request was made through Pakistan Citizen Portal, but later, after the intervention of the PIC, the PTA submitted its response and stated that copies of the email sent to and received from the TikTok application management and copies of the notes and minutes of meeting in this regard cannot be shared with the applicant under the section 7(e) of Right of Access to Information Act 2017.
The PIC in its order stated that Section 7 (e) relates to records pertaining to the defence forces of the country. Furthermore, disclosure of “copies of the letter(s)/ email (s) between the respondent and the company managing TikTok application is neither likely to adversely impact national security of the country nor the commercial activities of the company which manages TikTok application.”
The seven-page verdict, authored by Information Commissioner Zahid Abdullah described that ‘noting on the files’ and ‘minutes of the meeting’ are given qualified and not absolute exclusion from disclosure. The exclusion of ‘noting on the file’ and ‘minutes of the meetings’ is subject to a final decision. The disclosure of ‘minutes of meetings’ and ‘noting on the file’ during the deliberative process is protected to ensure that outside influence does not create hindrances in the deliberative process.
However, once a public body has taken a final decision, as is the case in the instant appeal, noting on the files and minutes of the meetings cannot be treated as excluded records.
‘Noting on the file’ and ‘minutes of the meeting’, once the final decision has been taken, reflect the quality of input by different officers which becomes the basis for the final decision. Therefore, citizens of Pakistan have the right to have access to ‘noting on the files’ and ‘minutes of the meetings’ which led to the imposition of a ban on Tiktok application so that they can judge for themselves the input provided by officers involved which led to the ban through the final order, said the order.
This commission is of the view that the disclosure of ‘file noting’ and ‘minutes of the meetings pertaining to the imposition of ban on Tiktok application will contribute to making government more accountable to citizens, a greater level of participation of citizens in the affairs of the government, reducing corruption and inefficiency, promoting sound economic growth’ and promoting good governance and respect for human rights in the country, the order states.
The commission in its order has also established that Citizens can seek information from the government departments using the option of Right to Information in the Human Rights category of Pakistan Citizen Portal.
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