Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for July 2022

tl;dr

For the month of July 2022, IFF has filed 9 Right to Information (“RTI”) applications. In response to an RTI application on surveillance of sanitation workers in Chandigarh, the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation has shared that they have been using “human tracking watches” on field staff since August 1, 2020 and incur approximately Rs 17.5 lakhs per month on it.

Why should you care?

The RTI Act was enacted to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority by ensuring that citizens have 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.

As we have discovered previously through responses received on our Right to Information applications, several times various government processes and programs continue with little or no transparency. This happens despite the mandate in the RTI Act, 2005 to proactively publish and disclose information to citizens.

The 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.

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 9 RTI applications with various authorities this month to ask for information pertaining to projects which affect the data privacy of Indian citizens.

This month, we filed RTI applications with:

  1. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) on proposed fresh legislation to replace the Information Technology Act, 2000. Earlier, there were media reports that the Ministry was working on a legislation to ‘rein in deliberate misinformation’ which would replace the existing IT Act, 2000.
  2. The Chief Minister’s Office, Government of NCT of Delhi and the Public Works Department, Government of NCT of Delhi on the Delhi Wi-Fi schemes. Under the scheme, 11,000 Wi-Fi hotspots are proposed to be installed at various public places in Delhi. We sought information on the project plan of the scheme and whether any cybersecurity audit of the technical systems was being done by the government.
  3. The Chief Minister’s Office, Government of NCT of Delhi and the Public Works Department, Government of NCT of Delhi on the proposal to share the live CCTV footage of children studying in Delhi govt. school classrooms with parents. Read our letter to the Chief Minister's Office, Delhi, here.
  4. The Ministry of Rural Development (1, 2) on the mandatory use of a mobile application to mark the attendance of MG-NREGA workers.
  5. The Government of Telangana on the consultation paper on Agricultural Data Management Policy 2022 by the Agriculture & Cooperation (A&C) Department, Government of Telangana.

Significant responses received:

  1. In response to an RTI application on surveillance of sanitation workers in Chandigarh, the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation has shared that they have been using “human tracking watches” on field staff since August 1, 2020 and incur approximately Rs 17.5 lakhs per month on it. We had previously also sent a joint letter on the issue initiated by the All India Lawyers Association For Justice (AILAJ) to express our concerns over these ongoing violations to the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis.
  2. In an RTI response, the Department of Home Economics, University of Delhi stated that they spent Rs. 17,500/- on the procurement of a biometric attendance system with facial recognition without conducting any accuracy report or third-party assessment.
  3. In response to our RTI application with the Ministry of Rural Development on the mandatory use of a mobile application to mark the attendance of MG-NREGA workers, the Ministry shared the order mandating use of the application. We have followed up with another RTI application seeking information on whether any feasibility assessment was carried out or whether any representations against its use have been received by the Ministry.
  4. In a significant response, MeitY has shared with us the minutes of meetings of the Empowered Group on Technology and Data Management and the order constituting the empowered group.

Media mentions

  1. “Activists cry foul as govt pulls Aarogya Setu’s data protocol” in ET Prime dated July 29, 2022. (link)

Help us help you

In case you want us to file an RTI application on an issue in which June includes any active or proposed program, scheme or initiative of the government impacting the digital rights of citizens, you can fill out this blocksurvey form and we shall then file an RTI application with the concerned authorities. Alternatively, you can also write to us [email protected].

Important Documents

  1. Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for June 2022 dated July 04, 2022. (link)
  2. Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for May 2022 dated June 02, 2022. (link)
  3. Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for April 2022 dated May 06, 2022. (link)

The post was drafted with the assistance of Gyan Tripathi, Policy Trainee, IFF, and reviewed by IFF staffer Anushka Jain.