Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for November 2021

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tl;dr

Since our last report for the month of November, IFF has filed 37 RTI requests and 1 first appeal. Here, we give you an overview of the requests filed and an analysis of the responses we have received from the different public authorities. This report highlights 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 to 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 November, we have filed 37 RTI requests and 1 First Appeal electronically with authorities at the Central level as well as through speed posts with relevant authorities at the States’ levels, concerning the various issues on which we engage with the Government.

Note: The number of RTI requests 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 that will ensure that the right to privacy is protected. We filed 10 RTI requests and 1 first 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 (FRT). We also enquire about the related surveillance technologies that the public authorities deploy. This month, we filed requests with:

  1. The East Delhi Municipal Corporation regarding the use of an attendance app for East Delhi municipal workers.
  2. The Tamil Nadu Police Department regarding the use of a face recognition system by the law enforcement

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 Posts regarding the Approach Paper on the Digital Address Code released by the Department.
  2. The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-in) on audits, complaints redressed and breached identified by CERT-in.
  3. The Ministry of Home Affairs on proposal to link Aadhaar numbers with death and birth registrations.
  4. The Ministry of Labour & Employment on proposal to link E-shram portal to Unnati portal.
  5. The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment on proposal to link E-shram portal to Unnati portal.
  6. The Unique Identification Authority of India on its proposal for an Aadhaar 2.0.
  7. The Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers Welfare on the responses received by the Department on IDEA.
  8. The Ministry of Home Affairs on the Advisory to states to use CMAPS and COGNOS BI.

We also filed 1 First Appeal with :

  1. The Ministry of Home Affairs on no reply being given against our request dated 14.09.2021 [MHOME/R/E/21/03625] despite the expiry of the statutory period of 30 days.

Significant responses received on our RTI applications:

  1. In the responses received on our requests for information to various state commissions for the protection of child rights from Delhi, Nagaland and Meghalaya, it is unfortunate to note that none of the Commissions have issued any guidelines or recommendations to ensure the protection of personal data of students being collected via biometric devices and other means.
  2. In the response to our previous RTI request to the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies, we’ve been informed that the proposed purchase of the Face Recognition System has been put on hold and the previous orders of attendance via biometric systems have been reinstated.

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 27 RTI requests to demand accountability for violations of free speech on the internet with:

  1. The Government of Odisha for their compliance with the Anuradha Bhasin guidelines on internet shutdowns in the state.The Department of Home, Government of Odisha on internet shutdowns in the state.
  2. The Government of Nagaland on the reported recent internet shutdown from December 05, 2021.
  3. The National Informatics Centre on interface changes in the RTI portal, including dis-allowance for registration of new users.
  4. The Department of Electronics & Information Technology on orders issued by the Union Government under S.69A of the IT Act, 2000.
  5. The Government of Delhi on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  6. The Government of Haryana on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  7. The Government of Kerala on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  8. The Government of Tamil Nadu on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  9. The Government of Jammu and Kashmir on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  10. The Government of Telangana on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  11. The Government of Manipur on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  12. The Government of Uttarakhand on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  13. The Administration of Andaman and Nicobar Islands on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  14. The Government of Andhra Pradesh on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  15. The Government of Tripura on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  16. The Government of West Bengal on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  17. The Government of Meghalaya on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  18. The Government of Mizoram on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  19. The Government of Nagaland on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  20. The Government of Puducherry on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  21. The Government of Chhattisgarh on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  22. The Government of Assam on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  23. The Government of Arunachal Pradesh on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  24. The Union Territory of Daman and Diu on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  25. The Government of Goa on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  26. The Government of Bihar on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  27. The Government of Gujarat on any website or applications blocking orders issued by them pursuant to any order/ decree/ judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.

Media Mentions

Our advocacy for wider access to information by the public has been acknowledged by different media reports on several occasions.

  1. In response to our RTI requests filed in December 2018, Delhi High Court asked CIC to inform time to hear appeal against MHA’s refusal to give info on e-surveillance. It was covered in Daily Pioneer, Deccan Herald, ANI news, LiveLaw, National Herald, NewsClick, and the Indian Express. In subsequent hearings, the HC directed CIC to decide our 2nd appeal within 8 Weeks. It was mentioned in LiveLaw, ABP news, Indian Express and Leaflet.

Important Documents

  1. Digital Transparency: A Right to Information report for October, 2021 dated November 07, 2021 (Link)

The post was drafted with the assistance of Gyan Tripathi, a fourth-year law student from Symbiosis International, Pune, and reviewed by IFF staffer Anushka Jain.