Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for March 2022

tl;dr

For the month of March, 2022, IFF has filed 33 RTI applications and 17 first appeals. In responses received we discovered that NIXI wants to do a Aadhaar based EKYC for domain names to store details in a “perfect manner and a decent way”, MeitY stated it does not have a Digital Government Mission despite MoS Rajeev’s public statement, and Assam, Daman & Diu, Kerala responded that they have not imposed any internet shutdown since 10.01.2020.

Why should you care?

The Right to Information Act, 2005 (“the Act” or “the RTI Act”) was enacted to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority by ensuring that citizens are able 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.

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 comes 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 32 RTI applications 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 applications with various public authorities after we come across news reports that they are developing or using facial recognition technology (FRT). This month, we filed applications with:

  1. The South Western Railway- Bengaluru Division on Facial Recognition used by them.
  2. The Ministry of Home Affairs on the grant of Bengaluru Safe City Project.
  3. The Airport Authority of India on the use of Facial Recognition Technology at the Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru.
  4. The Legal Department of Government of Karnataka over legal opinions sought for the use of facial recognition technology in the state.
  5. The Bangalore Police over the use of facial recognition technology by them.
  6. The Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. over the use of facial recognition by them.
  7. The Uttarakhand Police, Telangana State Council for Higher Education, Punjab Police,  Ongole Municipal Corporation, Ministry of Labour & Employment, Ministry of Home Affairs on Varanasi Smart City Project, Hyderabad Transport Corporation, Haryana Police, Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority, Gujarat School Education Department, Chittoor Police, Airports Authority of India on Varanasi Smart City Project over the use of facial recognition technology by them.
  8. The Telangana State Council for Higher Education, Uttarakhand Police, Punjab Police,  Ongole Municipal Corporation, Ministry of Labour & Employment, Ministry of Home Affairs on Varanasi Smart City Project, Hyderabad Transport Corporation, Haryana Police, Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority, Gujarat School Education Department, Chittoor Police, Airports Authority of India on Varanasi Smart City Project over the procurement of facial recognition technology by them.

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 applications with:

  1. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on the changes made to the document of Draft India Data Accessibility & Use Policy 2022 even as the public consultation was in process. We have also written to MeitY indicating the need for a fresh consultation process as these actions have completely vitiated the present consultation and led to an erosion of public trust. The Election Commission of India on analytics-based voting.
  2. The Election Commission of India on analytics-based voting.

Significant responses received:

  1. In response to our first appeal against the original response from the PIO, NIXI, the FAA has recorded that "The power delegated to ccTLD Manager under Registry-Registrar Agreement was exercised in formulating the policy under discussion. No further information can be disseminated being a case sensitive matter. The policy under discussion in RTI is replaced with eKYC using Aadhaar, notification dated 24-02-2022." The new notification dated 24-02-2022 can be accessed here, and prescribes for Aadhaar based eKYC. Previously, we have explained why the decision is troublesome.
  2. In response to our request for information application with the Election Commission of India on the proposed use of analytics-based voting technology, the PIO has stated that the reply sought is not in 'information' format, hence cannot be shared.
  3. In response to our request for information application on the use of AFRS by them, the Delhi Police have sent a copy of the Standard Operating Procedure in case of receipt of information about missing children/ person which mentions that they use AFRS to trace them.
  4. In response to our request for information application about private and government entities being integrated with Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission, the PIO has mentioned that several private and public entities have indeed been integrated with ABDM.
  5. In response to our request for information application on the ‘Digital Government Mission’ of MeitY, the PIO responded that there was no such mission by e-Governance Group, MeitY. This directly contradicts the MoS Rajeev Chandrashekhar’s public statements and media reports.

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 applications to demand accountability for instances that may hamper free speech on the internet such as website blocking or internet shutdowns.

In the last month, we have filed a right to information application to demand accountability for violations of free speech on the internet with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in response to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in Lok Sabha on 15.03.2022 as unstarred question number 2168.

We also filed 17 first appeals with:

  1. The Home Department, Government of Chhattisgarh over their response to our right to information application on the number of internet shutdowns in the state since 10.01.2020.
  2. The Home Department, Administration of Daman and Diu against the decision of the PIO on our right to information application on the number of internet shutdowns in the  UT since 10.01.2020.
  3. Home Department of Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Sikkim, Punjab, Delhi, Manipur, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Haryana, Bihar, Arunachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Andaman and Nicobar Islands over non-response despite the  expiry of the statutory time-limit of 30 days against our right to information application on internet shutdowns in the state/ UT since 10.01.2020.
  4. The Home Department of Gujarat over their response claiming exemption from the RTI Act, 2005 against our right to information application on internet shutdown in the state since 10.01.2020.

Significant responses received:

  1. In response to our request for information application on the internet shutdowns ordered in the state since 10.01.2020, the state of Assam has responded that no orders suspending telecom services have been issued by the state under Rule 2(1) of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017.

Important Documents

  1. Digital Transparency: A Right to Information report for February 2022 dated March 01, 2022. (Link)

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