Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for January, 2021

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tl;dr

Since our last report in the month of December, IFF has filed 32 RTI requests. Here, we give you an overview of the requests filed and why demanding transparency and accountability from government authorities is one of the key elements in our fight to protect digital rights.

Why is transparency important?

The Right to Information Act, 2005 was enacted to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority by ensuring that citizens are able secure 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.

The Right to Information 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 routinely extract information about various ongoing policies and projects that the Government launches. In the month of January, we have up till now filed 32 RTI requests with authorities at the Central and State level, both electronically and through physical filing on the various issues on which we engage with the government.

Note: Number of RTIs are calculated from the date of the previous report. While we try to make this a monthly report, some RTI requests from the previous month that were filed after that month's report may be included in the present report.

Data Protection and Privacy

One of our key areas of work is ensuring that public authorities respect data privacy and engage in practices which will ensure that the right to privacy is protected. We filed 30 requests with various authorities this month to ask for information pertaining to newly introduced projects which affect the data privacy of Indian citizens.

Under IFF’s Project Panoptic, we routinely file RTI requests with various public authorities after we come across news reports that they are developing or using facial recognition technology. This month, we filed requests with:

  1. The Delhi Police,
  2. The Director General of Police Office, Uttar Pradesh,
  3. The Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority,
  4. The Odisha Police,
  5. The Bengaluru Police,
  6. The Bhubhaneshwar Police,
  7. The Police Commissioner Office, Lucknow &
  8. The Education Department, Delhi Government.

Additionally we also filed requests with:

  1. The National Health Authority on the drafting of the National Digital Health Mission policy. We have also received the reply to this request.
  2. The National Health Authority on responses received as part of the public consultation on the draft for Health Data Management Policy. We have also received the reply to this request.
  3. The National Health Authority on the pilot projects of the National Digital Health Mission being launched in Chandigarh, Ladakh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu, Puducherry, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep. We have also received the reply to the request.
  4. The National Health Authority on the notification issued for the implementation of the National Digital Health Mission. We have also received the reply to the request.
  5. The Department of Electronics & Information Technology on the CO-WIN application for COVID-19 vaccine registration.
  6. The Department of Health & Family Welfare on the CO-WIN application for COVID-19 vaccine registration.
  7. The National Crime Records Bureau on the report that CCTNS data will be shared with private firms and PSUs.
  8. The National Informatics Centre on the report that CCTNS data will be shared with private firms and PSUs.
  9. The Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Family Welfare on the proposed AgriStack. We have also received the reply to this request.
  10. The National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog) on the proposed AgriStack. We have also received the reply to this request.
  11. The National Health Authority on the functioning of the Aarogya Setu mobile application.
  12. The Department of Health & Family Welfare on the functioning of the Aarogya Setu mobile application.
  13. The Department of Telecommunications on the data about the movement of migrant workers after the COVID-19 related nationwide lockdown in March 2020.
  14. The Department of Telecommunications on the location data requisitioned by the Department of Telecom from telecom service providers for COVID-19 control purposes in 2020.
  15. The Department of Electronics & Information Technology on data breaches reported to CERT-In.
  16. The Department of Electronics & Information Technology on the the Expert Committee on Non-Personal Data Governance Framework.
  17. The PGIMER, Chandigarh on reports stating that Health ID has been mandatory for staffers.
  18. The Chief Minister's Office, New Delhi on action taken on the representation sent by the Internet Freedom Foundation bearing reference no. IFF/2020/170 on November 18, 2020.
  19. The Excise Department, Delhi on action taken on the representation sent by the Internet Freedom Foundation bearing reference no. IFF/2020/170 on November 18, 2020.
  20. The Department of Electronics & Information Technology on the proposed amendment of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
  21. The Department of Electronics & Information Technology on the government-appointed expert panel that has been formed to monitor the data being captured by the Aarogya Setu application.

Free Speech and Censorship

Our other main focus 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 requests to demand accountability for instances which may hamper free speech on the internet such as website blocking or internet shutdowns.

In the month of January, we have up till now filed 2 RTI requests to demand accountability for violations of free speech on the internet with:

  1. The Department of Telecommunications on the amendment of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017. We have also received the reply to this request.
  2. The Home Department, Maharashtra on representation sent by the Internet Freedom Foundation bearing reference no. IFF/2020/156 dated August 6, 2020.

Important Documents

  1. Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for December, 2020 (link)
  2. RTI responses received from Education Department, Delhi Government on their use of facial recognition technology (link)
  3. RTI response received from Central Board of Secondary Education on their use of facial recognition technology dated January 27, 2021 (link)

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