Email IDs of all government officials cannot be provided under the Right to Information Act as it could cause a serious security threat, the Central Information Commission has ruled.
The Full Bench of the Commission, however, directed the National Informatics Centre to quickly complete a web directory carrying email IDs of officials dealing public issues in larger public interest.
"Providing the list of all email IDs in a CD format could pose a security threat as well as the risk of disruption of essential public services by making the information susceptible to misuse/abuse," the Bench comprising Information Commissioners Basant Seth, Yashovardhan Azad and Sridhar Acharyulu said.
It said the government has to make sure that the emails and websites of its ministries and departments do not become targets for anti-social elements "within and beyond the country".
The Bench said that on a "practical and possible logical front", the apprehension of the NIC, while withholding the email IDs of all the officials, cannot be completely overlooked because "availability and access to such wide array of information leaves scope for misuse and abuse of the same at the hands of any person".
"Apart from random mischief mongers or technical geeks or harmless but curious persons who may disrupt the entire cyber network by irresponsible handling of the information viz. The list of email IDs; the country actually runs a far greater risk of exposing itself to inimical, hostile nations, waiting to harm national security and interest by triggering a cyber attack or even worse, hacking into the systems and obtaining valuable confidential information of national importance," the order said.
The case related to Churu-based information seeker Maniram Sharma who had sought copies of all email addresses of government and public authorities and organisations maintained by the NIC, the government's official information technology solution provider.
Rejecting the plea of the applicant, the Bench said according to the respondents' contentions there is a high possibility of misuse of information in the form of release of all email addresses of all the public authorities in a consolidated CD form.
"The respondents have repeatedly voiced their apprehension that such disclosure of information could make the government Internet network vulnerable to cyber attacks in the form of humongous amount of unwanted interest communications sent from fake IP addresses, choking the government network and blocking access of the NIC servers," it said.
The Commission lauded the efforts of the government for its project to centralise all official communications by creating a hub on single platform.
"Such a development, in larger public interest augurs well for the cause of transparency and also caters to the demand of the appellant.
"Believing that directory is being developed under the vigilant and watchful government set up, we require the aspects of national security and larger public interest and public reach shall be adequately addressed," it said.
It directed the NIC to ensure that the directory meant for citizens at large must essentially be user friendly and CPIOs and FAAs and officials posted grievance redressal and public relations offices etc who deal with public at large, can also access the data easily.