Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for February, 2023

For the month of February 2022, IFF has filed 13 Right to Information (“RTI”) applications and 01 First Appeal. We received 5 responses including 1 from the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare and 4 from the Department of Electronics and Information Technology.

17 March, 2023
4 min read

tl;dr

For the month of February 2022, IFF has filed 13 Right to Information (“RTI”) applications and 01 First Appeal. We received 5 responses including 1 from the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare and 4 from the Department of Electronics and Information Technology.

Why should you care?

The RTI Act was enacted to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority by ensuring that citizens have access to information under the control of public authorities. Facilitating such access is necessary to ensure that democratic processes are not subverted by public authorities acting under private interests. Where transparency is not upheld as a value of public decision-making, citizens are at a disadvantage when it comes to keeping a check on abuse of power by the public authorities.

As we have discovered previously through responses received on our Right to Information applications, several times various government processes and programs continue with little or no transparency. This happens despite the mandate in the RTI Act, 2005 to publish and disclose information to citizens proactively.

The RTI Act is thus one of the most important tools at the disposal of the public to engage with, and demand transparency and accountability from, the Government. We use the Act to extract information about various ongoing policies and projects that the Government launches.

Data Protection and Privacy

One of our key areas of work is ensuring that public authorities respect data privacy and engage in practices that will protect the right to privacy.

Under IFF’s Project Panoptic, we routinely file RTI applications with various public authorities after we come across news reports that they are developing or using facial recognition technology (FRT).

On February 2, 2023, we filed 01 RTI application with the South East Railway - Bilaspur Division seeking information related to the tender awarded to M/S Technogix Solutions Private Limited about the deployment of the facial recognition system by the South East Railway - Bilaspur Division.

For more information on the use of facial recognition technology and how it increases mass surveillance, visit IFF’s Project Panoptic.

We also filed RTI applications with:

  1. Department of Electronics and Information Technology on the ban by the Center on various Chinese apps as per the Livemint report titled Digital strike 2.0 on China: Centre blocks over 200 apps with Chinese links dated 05.02.2023.
  2. Department of Electronics and Information Technology and National Informatics Centre on response by Dr. Amar Singh, the Minister of Electronics & IT to the unstarred question No. 1107 on 08.02.2023: Protocol for Aarogya Setu Data.
  3. Tamil Nadu Police Headquarters on tender floated by Greater Chennai Police to set up an Automatic Number-Plate Recognition (ANPR) system at 50 locations within its jurisdiction.
  4. Department of Electronics and Information Technology public consultations held by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) in preparation of the draft amendments to the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 in relation to online gaming (Draft Amendments) held on January 17, 2023.
  5. National Health Authority consultation paper by National Health Authority (NHA) on creation of the Unified Health Interface (UHI) system released on December 15, 2022.
  6. Department of Electronics and Information Technology orders issued by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) to block over 230 applications/ platforms, after receiving instructions from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
  7. Department of School Education and Literacy on Diksha app which is a government app launched by the Union Ministry of Education in 2017.
  8. Department of Electronics and Information Technology orders reportedly issued by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) to internet service providers (ISPs) and Play Store operator Google to unblock some of the digital lending apps and websites that were part of a list of apps banned by the government by an order issued previously on 05.02.2023 by the MeitY under the IT Act, 2000 banning 94 lending apps which also included apps of Indian firms, after receiving instructions from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
  9. Ministry of Home Affairs on plan of the Union government plan to make technology backed forensic audits of crime scenes mandatory where the punishable offense is for six or more than six years

Apart from this, we filed First Appeals with:

  1. Department of Electronics and Information Technology in reference to the RTI application that we had filed on 06.12.2022 seeking a list of websites that were unblocked by MeitY from 01.01.2022 to 30.11.2022 and a list of the corresponding website unblocking orders. However, the CPIO denied this information stating that such information is confidential in nature and cannot be disclosed as per Rule 16 of the IT Rules, 2009. Aggrieved and not satisfied by the response, we filed the first appeal on 09.02.2023 requesting an adequate, complete and a detailed response. The response of the First Appellate Authority is awaited.

Free Speech and Censorship

Another focus of our work is to ensure that freedom of speech and expression on the internet is protected and that unnecessary censorship does not lead to a chilling effect on people’s fundamental rights. For this, we routinely file RTI applications to demand accountability for instances that may hamper free speech on the internet, such as website blocking or internet shutdowns.

In February, 2023, we filed 01 RTI application with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting regarding the ban on the BBC documentary, “India: The Modi Question”.

Help us help you

In case you want us to file an RTI application on an issue which includes any active or proposed program, scheme or initiative of the government impacting the digital rights of citizens, you can fill out this blocksurvey form and we shall then file an RTI application with the concerned authorities. Alternatively, you can also write to us [email protected].

Important Documents

  1. Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for January 2023 dated February 17, 2023. (link)
  2. Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for November 2022 dated December 5, 2022. (link)
  3. Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for October 2022 dated November 18, 2022. (link)

The post was drafted by Bhavya Singh, Litigation Intern, IFF, and reviewed by IFF staffer Anushka Jain.



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