Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for March 2023

Read our digital transparency report for the month of March, 2023. In the tracking period, we filed 7 RTI applications.

07 April, 2023
5 min read

tl;dr

For the month of March 2023, IFF has filed 07 Right to Information ("RTI") applications. We received a total of 10 responses, 02 from the Ministry of Home Affairs and 03 from the Department of Electronics and Information Technology.

Why should you care?

The RTI Act, 2005 ("the Act") was enacted to promote transparency and accountability in the operations of all public authorities by granting citizens access to information held by public authorities. Facilitating such access is necessary to prevent public authorities acting in private interests from undermining democratic processes. Citizens are at a disadvantage when it comes to preventing abuse of power by public officials when transparency is not upheld as a value of public decision-making.

As we previously discovered through responses to our RTI applications, various government processes and programs frequently continue with little or no transparency. This occurs despite the Act's mandate to publish and disclose information to citizens on a proactive basis.

As a result, the Act is one of the most important tools at the public's disposal for engaging with the government and demanding transparency and accountability from it. We use the Act to obtain information about the government's various ongoing policies and projects.

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 ensure our fundamental 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. For the month of March 2023, we have not filed any RTI applications under Project Panoptic. For more information on the use of facial recognition technology and how it increases mass surveillance, visit IFF’s Project Panoptic.

However, we filed the following RTI applications for data protection and privacy:

  1. The Department of Electronics and Information Technology seeking information as to whether CERT-In had started sending out notices to service providers to seek compliance with Direction (iii) of Direction No. 20(3)/2022-CERT-In of April 28, 2022.
  2. The Department of Electronics and Information Technology seeking information as to whether CERT-In had started sending out notices to service providers to seek compliance with Direction (v) of Direction No. 20(3)/2022-CERT-In of April 28, 2022.
  3. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights seeking information on the technological working of the ‘Go Home and Reunite’ Portal, according to the Protocol for Restoration and Repatriation of Children.

We received these responses:

A. Lucknow Railways replied on March 14, 2023, to an application dated January 11, 2023, filed seeking information on CCTV cameras to be installed in coaches of Indian Railways, that an IP-based CCTV surveillance system will be used in coaches of trains, and the specifications of the systems are available on the RDSO website. The response also stated that the SOP for said project is not within the purview of the authority.

B. The Modern Coach Factory, Rae Bareli replied on February 22, 2023, to an application dated January 11, 2023, seeking information on CCTV cameras to be installed in coaches of Indian Railways, saying that they have turned out 771 coaches with the provision of CCTV cameras to date.

C. The Integral Coach Factory, Chennai responded on March 06, 2023, to an application dated January 11, 2023, seeking information on CCTV cameras to be installed in coaches of Indian Railways, with the following data. In the response, ICF Chennai replied that 08 cameras will be provided in Electric Multiple Unit coaches and 04 cameras in Mainline Electric Multiple Unit coaches, and also provided information as to where 08 cameras will be provided in the entire train set. They clarified in the response that the IP-based CCTV cameras have no video analytics or facial recognition systems.

D. The Ministry of Home Affairs, in response to our RTI application dated February 22, 2023, on technology-backed forensic audits to be conducted at crime scenes,  transferred our request on March 21, 2023, to the Delhi Police HQ. They disposed of our request on April 11, 2023, stating that they did not have the requisite information, however, they failed to transfer our application to the relevant authority as required under S.6(3) of the Act. We filed a First Appeal in April 2023, challenging the response received.

Free Speech and Censorship

Another area of work is to ensure that internet freedom of speech and expression is protected and that unnecessary censorship does not chill people's fundamental rights. As a result, we routinely file RTI applications to demand accountability for incidents that may impede free expression on the internet, such as website blocking or internet shutdowns.

We filed RTI applications with:

  1. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting seeking information on URL blocking orders issued under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 from 2018 to the present under the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguard for Blocking of Access to Information by the Public) Rules, 2009, and the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.
  2. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology seeking information on URL blocking orders issued under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 from 2018 to the present under the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguard for Blocking of Access to Information by the Public) Rules, 2009, and the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.
  3. The Press Information Bureau seeking information on the appointment criteria and composition of the PIB Fact Check Unit. Via the aforementioned application, we also sought information on the number of complaints received by the PIB Fact Check Unit and the action taken in response.
  4. The Department of Electronics and Information Technology seeking information on the Grievance Appellate Committees established under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

We also received responses from:

A. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting disposed of our request on March 15, 2023, for the ban of the BBC documentary on the Prime Minister of India, stating that they are authorised to take down digital news and online content under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and Rule 16 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009. Further, they have also stated that the proceedings of the Inter Departmental Committee are confidential and exempt from disclosure under S.8(1)(a) of the Act. We filed a first appeal against the response on April 11, 2023.

Help us help you

If you want us to file an RTI application on an issue involving any current or proposed government program, scheme, or initiative affecting citizens' digital rights, please fill out this blocksurvey form, and we will file an RTI application with the appropriate authorities. Alternatively, you can also write to us at [email protected].

This post has been drafted by Policy Intern Anahida Bharadwaj and reviewed by the IFF Policy Team.

Important documents:

  1. Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for February, 2023, dated March 17, 2023 (link)
  2. Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for January, 2023, dated February 17, 2023 (link)
  3. Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for November, 2022, dated December 05, 2022 (link)

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