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

Since our last report in the month of February, IFF has filed 23 RTI requests, 5 first appeals and 1 second appeal. . Here, we give you an overview of the requests filed and why demanding transparency from government authorities is one of the key elements in our fight to protect digital rights.

06 April, 2021
5 min read

tl;dr

Since our last report for the month of February, IFF has filed 23 RTI requests, 5 first appeals and 1 second appeal. We also participated in a hearing at the CIC for another second appeal that we had filed in 2019. 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 March, we have up till now filed 23 RTI requests, 5 first appeals and 1 second appeal 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 19 RTI requests, 2 first appeals and 1 second appeal 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. AAI-Airport Director, Kolkata Airport,
  2. Ministry of Textiles,
  3. Department of Economic Affairs,
  4. National Thermal Power Corporation,
  5. Department of School Education and Literacy,
  6. Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority,
  7. Vasai Virar City Municipal Corporation,
  8. Hyderabad Police,
  9. TS Technology Service Ltd.

Additionally we also filed requests with:

  1. The Department of Health & Family Welfare, Department of Defence, Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Food Processing Industries, Govt. of Karnataka & Home Department, Maharashtra on the Aadhaar Authentication for Good Governance (Social Welfare, Innovation, Knowledge) Rules, 2020.
  2. The Ministry of Road Transport & Highways on a news report titled - No toll booths on highways: What is GPS imaging technology on vehicles for toll collection?- published in the Mint on March 18, 2021.
  3. The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment on the representation sent by the Internet Freedom Foundation bearing reference no. IFF/2021/004 on January 25, 2021.

We filed the following first appeals:

  1. In response to the reply received from the Delhi Police on our request related to a report titled, DNA fingerprints, facial recognition used to probe riots cases, says Delhi Police chief, published in The Print on February 19, 2021, we filed a first appeal.
  2. In response to the reply received from the Excise Department, Govt. of NCT of Delhi on our request, we filed a first appeal.

Further, this month we filed a second appeal with the Department of Electronics & Information Technology on the Committee Of Experts On Non-Personal Data Governance Framework. A second appeal usually takes around 2 years to be taken up by the Central Information Commission (CIC) however, we believe that in asking for accountability and transparency from the government, persistence and patience is key. This can be seen from the second appeal that was taken up by the CIC this month.

On March 25, 2021, one of IFF's second appeals in the CIC was up for hearing for the disclosure of comments on a public consultation on the Personal Data Protection Bill. The CIC accepted our submissions and directed the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) to re-visit the RTI application and provide us with a revised reply and the comments, if no valid exemptions could be claimed. Read more here.

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 last month, we have filed 4 RTI requests to demand accountability for violations of free speech on the internet with:

  1. The Home Department, Maharashtra on a representation sent by the applicant bearing reference no. IFF/2020/156 dated August 6, 2020.
  2. The Department of Electronics & Information Technology on the Information Technology (Guidelines For Intermediaries And Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 which were notified on February 25th, 2021.
  3. The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting on the Information Technology (Guidelines For Intermediaries And Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 which were notified on February 25th, 2021.
  4. The Ministry of Home Affairs on the Cyber Crime Volunteers programme launched by the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C) under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

We filed the following first appeals:

  1. In response to the reply received from the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited BBNW on our request related to websites, URLs or applications blocked pursuant to any order/decree/judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021, we filed a first appeal.
  2. In response to the reply received from the MTNL-Delhi office on our request related to websites, URLs or applications blocked pursuant to any order/decree/judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021, we filed a first appeal.
  3. In response to the reply received from the MTNL- Mumbai office on our request related to websites, URLs or applications blocked pursuant to any order/decree/judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021, we filed a first appeal.

Processes are equally important!

In addition to this, we are also continuously updating and expanding our internal RTI tracker to ensure that our ever-growing repository of requests stays upto date. Perfecting these processes is essential as we grow over time to ensure that IFF’s commitment to quality is upheld.

Important Documents

  1. Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for February, 2021 dated March 2, 2021 (link)
  2. CIC observes that IT Ministry's denial on RTI for comments on the Data Protection Bill is, "grossly improper" dated April 2, 2021 (link)






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