From, "sheer suddenness" to sustained deliberation. A letter to the IT Standing Committee.

The IT Standing Committee is going to meet soon. We bring to its notice a backlog of issues and flag website blocking (of DuckDuckGo or Reddit), internet shutdowns and facial recognition technology.

10 July, 2020
4 min read


Over the past few months proceedings of the IT Standing Committee despite good faith efforts have been disrupted due to the pandemic. As it looks towards holding a hearing on July 14, 2020 we bring to its notice our prior correspondence and the backlog of issues that merit extensive deliberation. We further indicate issues that merit urgent attention such as website blocking (of DuckDuckGo or Reddit), internet shutdowns and facial recognition technology.

Let us reject, "sheer suddenness"

We have been corresponding with the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology. It plays a vital role in our parliamentary democracy that is increasingly digital. This is evident through the sheer breadth of issues we have highlighted in the past and are presented in a tabular form below.

Date Subject and context Link
18.09.2019 Intial letter citing the topics pending from the prior committee which includes the report on Net Neutality. Also indicates further topics including surveillance reforms, free speech and online abuse, disinformation and making large platforms accountable. Click Here
23.10.2019 Issues to be put to MEITY include committee on non-personal data, process on the draft intermediary rules and the cambridge analytica investigation Click Here
20.11.2019 Letter on the issues due to the Pegasus and NSO Spware Scandal and concerns around the cyber security of activists, civil society and human rights defenders Click Here
08.05.2020 Letter on the need to hold hearings on data privacy and security issues due to contact tracing applications including Aarogya Setu. Click Here
04.06.2020 Follow-up letter on with updated analysis and questions which arose specifically on Aarogya Setu. This goes beyond the madatory and voluntary nature, towards concerning issues of a potential digital health stack. Click Here
23.06.2020 Letter containing the breaches to our cyber security including the revelation of sensitive personal data including Aadhaar details and further investigations revealing growth of spearfishing attack firms and targets within India. Click Here

Today, we sent a letter to the IT Standing Committee with a brief of these prior issues many of which are pending consideration and reject the temptation of ad-hocism. Our larger ask is for regular sittings so the proper role of oversight over especially the Ministry of Electronics and IT and the Department of Telecom can be played by it.

Better foresight, not, "unexpected nature".

To better consider more urgent issues, better foresight and planning is needed in four vital areas. While some of them fall within pending topics such as, "Citizens Privacy and Security" there is need to do more as informed by our work over the past few months. This will help evidence based and considered policy making responses within legislation.

  • Issue 1: Growth of mass surveillance

After consistent follow up, we were  able to obtain through the Right to Information the bulk requisition of CDRs of telecom subscribers in various telecom circles. As per a letter of concern by telecom operators through an industry association this would impact every subscriber including high public functionaries including High Court and Supreme Court judges and Parliamentarians. All of this correspondence is contained on the following link.

  • Issue 2: Indiscriminate website blocking

Second, the blocking of websites is being done in an increasingly arbitrary manner as evidenced through the following documentation below. This is among other things a net neutrality violation but also an uncanalised and secretive use of powers under the Information Technology Act, the Telegraph Act and the UA Licenses. These include, block on the popular file sharing service WeTransfer dated June 09, 2020 (link); blocking of “Chinese apps” dated July 1, 2020 (link); blocking of the privacy focussed search engine DuckDuckGo dated July 2, 2020 (link). We are at present receiving alarming reports on the SaveTheInternet inconsistent blocking of the social networking platform Reddit and New York Times.

  • Issue 3: Illegal and unregulated State use of facial recognition technology

The growth of growth of facial recognition technology in India is reaching alarming proportions. Much of this use is illegal and not sanctioned by law. It’s widespread use in policing is a matter of concern and undermines the democractic guarantees and fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. We have tangibly demonstrated this through its use by the Delhi Police as available in a recent public post dated July 3, 2020.

  • Issue 4: Reforming and examining the constitutional basis of Internet Shutdowns

The Committee may consider the absence of reform of the process and power on Internet Shutdowns as per a assurances to bring it in compliance with the Supreme Court’s Judgement in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India. This springs not only from the directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court and an assurance by the Minister of State for Communications stated in Rajya Sabha on 06 February 2020 in response to a parliamentary question. More information on this is included with our correspondence to the proper government ministries as per this public  update  dated April 4, 2020.

We promise to continue engaging with all government and state institutions in good faith to advance these objectives. To us Parliamentary Committees hold special promise. We hope the meeting on July 14, 2020 leads not only to an informed interaction with the Ministry of Electronics and IT but also as an opportunity to consider issues past, present and future.

Important Documents

  1. Our letter to the Standing Committee on Information Technology on Substantive issues which merit detailed examination including, “Citizens Data Security and Privacy” dated July 10, 2020 (link)
  2. A letter on cyber-security to the Standing Committee on IT [link]
  3. Committee on IT : Get up! Stand up, for our privacy rights! [link]

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