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

tl;dr

Since our last report for the month of May, IFF has filed 21 RTI requests, 2 First Appeals and 1 Second Appeal. 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 (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 routinely extract information about various ongoing policies and projects that the Government launches. In the month of June , we have up till now filed 21 RTI requests, 2 First Appeal and 1 Second Appeal electronically with authorities at the Central level, concerning 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 10 RTI 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 Department of Military Affairs on use of Face Recognition Biometric Attendance System at the Dibrugarh office of the Department of Military Affairs.
  2. The All India Institute of Medical Sciences on the use of Face Recognition Biometric Attendance System at the AIIMS, New Delhi.
  3. The Indian Oil Corporation Limited on use of Face Recognition Biometric Attendance System at the Tirunelveli office of the Indian Oil Corporation Limited.
  4. The Ministry of Labour & Employment on the use of Face Recognition Biometric Attendance System at the Chandigarh office of the Ministry of Labour & Employment.
  5. The Department of Defence on the use of Face Recognition Biometric Attendance System by the Department Of Defence, Research & Development.

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

Additionally, we also filed requests with:

  1. The Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers’ Welfare on the different MOUs signed between the GOI and Patanjali Organic Research Institute, Amazon Web Services (AWS), ESRI India Pvt. Ltd., Agribazar India Pvt. Ltd.
  2. The Central Board of Secondary Education regarding the breach of the data of students enrolled under CBSE as per reports titled New Scam? About 2 Crore Indian Students' Data Selling Online For ₹299’ published by India Times dated June 19, 2021.
  3. The Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers’ Welfare on the consultations for India Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture.
  4. The Department of Electronics & Information Technology and Air India on IFF’s representation IFF/2021/030 dated June 11, 2021.

We also filed 1 second appeal with:

  1. The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre against their reply to our request regarding their use of Face Recognition Technology System.

Further, pursuant to the CIC order passed on May 17, 2021 in our second appeal regarding our RTI requests asking for information about surveillance orders that the Ministry of Home Affairs had issued in 2018, the First Appellate Authority held a telephonic hearing on June 24, 2021.  We are awaiting a copy of the First Appellate Authority’s decision. IFF will consistently and incrementally be pushing for greater transparency and trust for interception and surveillance reforms. You can read more about the hearing and the CIC’s order here.

Net Neutrality

Through the SaveTheInternet campaign, we were able to secure a massive public victory for net neutrality in India. This resulted in legal rules which now require internet service providers and telecoms companies to treat all data equally. Protecting net neutrality in India is one of our most important campaigns. For this, we filed requests with:

  1. The Department of Electronics and Information Technology on our representation bearing reference no. IFF/2021/026 dated May 22, 2021.

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

In the last month, we have filed 10 RTI requests to demand accountability for violations of free speech on the internet with:

  1. The Department of Electronics and Information Technology, the Department of Telecommunications and the Ministry of Home Affairs regarding the restriction of the Twitter account of Polis Project Inc. on April 22, April 29, May 4, May 13 and May 15, 2021.
  2. The Department of Electronics & Information Technology, the Department of Telecommunications and the Ministry of Home Affairs regarding the restriction of the account of Mr. Manjul Kishore on June 4, 2021.
  3. The Ministry of Home Affairs on a news report titled Govt. Prying on Clubhouse Rooms, Violating App’s terms of Services published by the Quint dated June 14, 2021.
  4. The Department of Electronics and Information Technology, the Department of Telecommunications and the Ministry of Home Affairs regarding the restriction of the Twitter account of Mr. Sushant Singh on February 1, 2021 and May 26, 2021.

We also filed 1 first appeal with:

  1. The Department of Electronics and Information Technology against their reply to our request regarding the reports titled Centre Asks Twitter To Drop "Manipulated" Tag For Toolkit Tweets published by NDTV dated May 21, 2021.

We had also filed 1 Second Appeal with:

  1. The Central Information Commission against the decision of First Appellate Authority of the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited-Mumbai Office regarding our request for information about website blocking orders between 2020 and 2021.

Important documents

  1. Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for May, 2021 dated June 8, 2021 (link)
  2. Government endorses the use of facial recognition for “touchless” vaccination process dated July 4, 2021 (link)