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Official Secrets Act 1923

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Official Secrets Act 1923

In 1904, the Indian Official Secrets Act was introduced by Lord Curzon. It was replaced by the official secret act in 1923

The official secret act 1923 was one of the most important acts in India and like many other legislation passed in British India had no place in contemporary Indian society. This act is India’s anti-espionage act held over from the British colonial period and states that actions which involve helping an enemy state against India are firmly condemned.

As per this act, one cannot approach, inspect or even pass over a prohibited government site or area. It also states that helping an enemy state can be in the form of communicating a sketch, plan, a model of an official secret, or of official codes of passwords, to the enemy.

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Prosecutions and Penalties

  • A person prosecuted under the OSA can be charged with the crime under official secret acts even if the action was unplanned and not intended to endanger the security of the state. The official secret act empowers persons in positions of authority to handle official secrets, and others who handle it in forbidden areas or outside them are liable for punishment.
  • Also, the journalists have to help members of the police force who are above the rank of the sub-inspector and members of the military with an investigation regarding an offence, up to and including revealing their source of information.
  • If the magistrate determines that based on the evidence there is enough danger to the security of the state, he can issue search warrants at any time.

Official secret act 1923

  • Initially, the Act was enacted to protect the British Empire from the clandestine acts of its enemies but now it is being used to silence citizens who ask too many questions. It is still present in the statute book and finds its way into the hands of every government regardless of the political parties at the helm, therefore enforcing the parent-child relationship between the state and its subjects.
  • A true democracy stands to work for the people. That is why the idea that every government should keep certain information away from the public domain in the name of national security contradicts the idea of democracy.
  • The Official Secrets Act finds itself at the crossroads of article 19(1). It gives every citizen the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • This act illuminates what documents or information can be deemed secret, hence it can be misused with government authority branding information or documents as official secret as they see fit.
  • This act has been used carelessly against media houses and journalists who are against the action of the Government and questioning its policies
  • The act creates adequate ground for corruption and contradicts the Right to Information that was enacted in 2005.

What is covered by the act?

The act covers the provisions related to the

-Penalties for spying

-Wrongful communication

-Unauthorized use of uniforms, falsification of reports, forgery, personation and false documents

-Communications with foreign agents to be evidence of the commission of certain offences

-Interfering with officers of the police or members of the Armed forces of Union -Attempts, incitements etc

-Duty of giving information as to the commission of offences

-Search warrants

-Penalty for harbouring spies

-Restriction on the trial of offences -Exclusion of the public from proceedings -Offenses by companies provisions of section 337 of Act 5 of 1898 to apply to offences under sections 3,5 and 7

Reforms

  • Since the official secret act is of draconian nature so many efforts have been initiated to reform it.
  • In 1971, the Law Commission became the first official body to observe the official secret act.
  • It declared that ‘just because a circular or document is marked secret or classified, it should not attract the provision of the act’
  • However, no change to the act was recommended by the commission.
  • In 2006, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission recommended that the act should be replaced with a chapter in the National Security Act containing provisions relating to official secrets. The commission delineated the act of ‘being incongruous with the regime of transparency in a democratic society.
  • In 2015, A committee was formed to look into the provisions of the official secret act.
  • On June 16, 2017, it submitted its final report to the secretariat.
  • It was suggested that the official secret act be made more transparent in line with the RTI Act

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