Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for June, 2023

For the month of June 2023, IFF filed 46 RTIs. We received a total of 31 responses to previous RTI applications filed. We also filed 02 First Appeals and received responses on 01 previously-filed appeals of the same nature - from MeitY.

15 July, 2023
5 min read

tl;dr

For the month of June 2023, IFF has filed 46 Right to Information (“RTI”) applications. We received a total of 31 responses to previous RTI applications filed. We also filed 02 First Appeals and received responses on 01 previously-filed appeals of the same nature - from the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY).

Why should you care?

The RTI Act of 2005 was enacted with the objective of promoting transparency and accountability within Indian public authorities. By granting citizens access to information held by these authorities, the Act seeks to prevent private interests from influencing government actions and undermining the democratic process. However, our examination of past RTI applications has revealed a concerning lack of transparency in government processes and schemes, particularly within and between different government departments. This dilutes the fundamental principles of accountability on which the Act was founded, as it also mandates public authorities to proactively disclose information to the general public.

To address this issue and uphold the spirit of accountability, we actively utilise RTI applications to obtain information about various ongoing government projects and policies. Our ultimate goal is to hold public institutions responsible for their actions. As part of this endeavour, we compile monthly reports that document the applications filed, responses received, and other pertinent information. Our aim is to contribute to a system where transparency is upheld as a fundamental value in public decision-making.

Data Protection and Privacy

Our primary focus is on upholding the principles of the right to privacy, as outlined in the 2017 Supreme Court ruling of Puttaswamy vs. Union of India. We place particular emphasis on safeguarding data privacy and security. As part of our efforts, we carry out the Project Panoptic at IFF, which involves regularly submitting RTI applications to public authorities based on news reports concerning the utilisation or advancement of facial recognition technology.

For the month of June, 2023, we have filed 1 application on the use of facial recognition technology:

  1. With the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers Welfare, seeking information on the facial recognition feature in the PM-Kisan mobile application (application dated June 27 2023)

We also filed the following 05 RTI applications on data protection:

  1. With the Department of Consumer Affairs, seeking information on an advisory pertaining to retailers and their insistence on extracting contact information of their customers (application dated June 7 2023)
  2. With Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL),  seeking information on its privacy policy for and  compliance with the Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011 (application dated June 9 2023).
  3. With Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited Limited (MTNL),  seeking information on its privacy policy for  and compliance with the Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011 (application dated June 9 2023).
  4. With the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY), seeking information on the alleged data breach in the CoWIN vaccination database (application dated June 16 2023).
  5. With the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY), seeking an exhaustive list of databases from which data may have been previously breached , based on Shri Rajeev Chandrasekhar's statements published in the Indian Express (application dated June 16 2023).

We received 5 responses from:

  1. Office of the Chief Electoral Officer, Karnataka, (on the alleged use of FRT in Karnataka, application dated 8 May 2023), stating that it was not implemented in the recently concluded General Elections to Karnataka Legislative Assembly, 2023, reply dated June 5, 2023.
  2. Directorate General Of Analytics & Risk Management, (on the procedure followed by them for identification of risky exporters using Data Analytics and AI, application dated 19 May 2023), stated that is in line with the instructions issued by Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs(CBIC) which are of confidential nature and hence cannot be further revealed, reply dated June 6, 2023.
  3. Department of Consumer Affairs(on the advisory pertaining to retailers and their insistence on extracting contact information of their customers, application dated 7 June 2023), in their response enclosed a copy of the order from Secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs to Retailers Association of India (RAI), reply dated June 12, 2023
  4. Department of Telecommunications (on the implementation of the AI and facial recognition-powered Solution for Telecom SIM Subscriber Verification (ASTR) platform, application dated 16 May 2015 ), in their response refused to answer on the specifics of how the facial recognition technology would be used for subscriber identification (reply dated June 15 2023)
  5. Department of Telecommunications (on on the grounds on which the Sanchar Saathi portal declares/publishes mobile numbers as fraudulent, application dated  May 18 2023) , in their response, refused to provide information under the provisions of section 8 (1)(g) of the RTI Act, 2005 (reply dated June 15 2023).

Free Speech and Censorship

We have a dedicated focus on upholding  freedom of speech and expression while ensuring that unnecessary censorship does not hinder people's fundamental rights. As part of our efforts, we frequently file RTI applications to demand accountability for incidents that impede free expression on the internet, such as website blocking or internet shutdowns.

For the month of June, 2023, we have filed 37 requests with:

  1. With the Home Departments/Home Ministries of 35 States/UTs, seeking information on how many orders suspending telecom/internet services were issued, after the decision in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India, (2020) 3 SCC 637. The requests were filed on June 22 2023.
  2. With the Maharashtra Home Department, seeking information on the meeting of the Review Committee which reviewed the order suspending the internet in Kolhapur District (application dated June 12 2023).

We filed the following First Appeals to responses received:

We filed appeals against the responses given by both the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) and MeitY separately. We were previously denied information on the total number of URL takedown notices issued by either of the Ministries. While MeitY argued that under Rule 16 of the Information Technology Rules, 2009, the nature of the requested information was ‘confidential’, MIB replied that the proceedings of the Inter-Departmental Committee (under Rule 14 of the IT Rules, 2021) to consider content (under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000) and records thereto are ‘confidential’.

In our appeal we argued that statistical information related to the number of websites taken down does not necessarily constitute confidential information under Rule 16 of the Information Technology Rules, 2009, published with Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000 (first appeals dated June 1, 2023 and June 9, 2023).

We received 2 responses from:

  1. Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY), (on the Jammu & Kashmir mobile application ban, request dated May 10 2023), stating that information is confidential in nature and cannot be disclosed under the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009, reply dated June 1 2023.  
  2. Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (on the blocking of various Twitter accounts like BBC Punjabi since 17.03.2023 in the aftermath of the internet shutdowns in Punjab), in response to a first appeal filed by us, dated 10 May 2023. It neither allayed any of the constitutional concerns raised in the first appeal nor did it not provide any further information. It simply reiterated Rule 16 of the Information Technology (Blocking Rules), 2009 (reply dated June 7 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 block survey 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 written by Policy Intern Krish and reviewed by the IFF Policy Team.

Important Documents:

  1. Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for May, 2023, dated June 1, 2023. (link)
  2. Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for April, 2023, dated May 6, 2023. (link)

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