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

In May 2023, we filed 28 Right to Information applications and 03 First Appeals.

01 June, 2023
5 min read

tl;dr

For the month of May 2023, IFF has filed 28 Right to Information (“RTI”) applications. We received a total of 04 responses to previous RTI applications filed, and 01 partial response from the Delhi Police. We also filed 03 First Appeals, and received responses on 03 previously-filed appeals of the same nature - one from the Delhi Police, and two from the Ministry of Electronic and Information Technology (“MeitY”).

Why should you care?

The RTI Act of 2005 was enacted to promote transparency and accountability within the operations of Indian public authorities. The Act grants citizens access to information held by these public authorities on their operations, with the aim of preventing them from acting in private interest, or otherwise undermining the democratic process.

Through previous RTI applications (catalogued here), we discovered that government processes and schemes often run on little or no transparency, especially within or between government departments. This dilutes the spirit of accountability with which the 2005 Act was brought into existence, since the Act also mandates that public authorities publish information to the general citizenry on a proactive basis.

We thus use RTI applications filed under the Act to obtain information about various ongoing government projects and policies, with the objective of holding public institutions accountable. As such, we publish monthly reports on the applications filed, responses received, and other relevant information.

Data Protection and Privacy

Our key areas of work include ensuring that public authorities respect the tenets of the right to privacy, as established in the landmark 2017 Supreme Court judgement of Puttaswamy vs. Union of India. Prioritising data privacy and security are part of this undertaking. Under IFF’s Project Panoptic, for example, we routinely file RTI applications with various public authorities on the basis of news publications reporting the use or development of facial recognition technology.

For the month of May, 2023, we have filed 06 applications on the use of facial recognition technology:

  1. With the Home Department, Manipur, seeking information on the introduction of facial recognition technology to the Inner Line Permit System in the state of Manipur.
  2. With the Election Commission of India, seeking information on a pilot project introducing facial recognition technology to one polling booth in Karnataka, and a follow-up application asking for the report of the pilot.
  3. With the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), seeking information on the implementation of an artificial intelligence and facial recognition-powered solution for Telecom SIM Subscriber verification (ASTR) platform. We also filed an application seeking information on the reported vetting of the ASTR system by constitutional lawyers with the DoT.
  4. With the Department of Revenue, seeking information on the usage of robust data analytics and artificial intelligence by the Government of India to identify and track risky taxpayers, an application that’s been transferred 18 times as of May 30, 2023.

We also filed the following 10 RTI applications on data protection:

  1. With the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), seeking information on the public authorities that had requested and received (or been denied) Aadhaar authentication services under the Good Governance Rules, 2020. We also filed an application seeking information on the reported assigning of a unique code to economic offenders linked to Aadhaar numbers and PAN.
  2. Similar to the latter application to the UIDAI, we also filed an application with the Department of Financial Services on this unique code.
  3. With MeitY, seeking information on various topics, including on the reported 3-month trial approval of Battlegrounds Mobile India. We also filed an application seeking information from CERT-In on the alleged Zivame data breach.
  4. With the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT), DoT, seeking information on the Central Government’s plan to roll out a pan-India mobile tracking system to find lost devices. We also filed another application with the DoT, seeking information on the newly-launched Sanchar Saathi portal.
  5. With the Ministry of Home Affairs, we filed an application seeking an update on the status of the incoming National Cybersecurity Policy of 2023, the replacement of the current 2013 guidelines. We also filed two applications with the Ministry seeking information on the reported incoming national database on births and deaths, and the electronic census accompanying it.

We received 01 response:

  1. From the Transport Directorate of Goa, we received a response on an RTI application we filed in April on the use of facial recognition technology in the issuing of a Learner’s Licence in the state of Goa. The response told us that such a system had indeed been put in place by the Central Ministry of Roads, Transport, and Highways, and that the system boasted an accuracy rate of 97%. Read more about our inferences here (embed tweet).

We also received a response to a first appeal filed in April on an RTI application seeking information on the use of facial recognition technology on conducting forensic audits by the Delhi Police.

Free Speech and Censorship

Another area of work for IFF is ensuring the freedom of speech and expression on the internet, unencumbered by issues of access and censorship. As a result, we routinely file RTI applications demanding accountability on incidents that impede free speech on the internet, such as internet shutdowns or website blocking. In this regard, we filed 08 RTI applications on the over-governance of various online platforms, like 07 applications on the banning of 14 mobile applications in Jammu and Kashmir, as well as an RTI seeking information on the details of disposed appeals from the Grievance Appellate Committee(s) established under the IT Rules, 2021.

We filed 04 applications seeking information on various internet shutdowns across the country:

  1. With the Home Department, Haryana, seeking information on the internet shutdown in the district of Nuh.
  2. With the Home Department of Manipur, seeking information on the suspension of internet services in the state.
  3. With the Home Department of Jammu and Kashmir at their Srinagar and Jammu offices, seeking a copy of the report from their Review Committees from internet shutdowns in 2022.

We also received 03 responses on applications filed last month:

  1. From the Press Information Bureau, on the total number of Fact Check Units established in regional offices across the country (20), with a list of respective regional officers appointed attached.
  2. From MeitY and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, on the number of URL takedown requests made under Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000, and the reasons for these requests being denied or accepted. While MeitY gave us numbers for the total requests made in individual years from 2018 to February 2023, all other requests were denied in the interest of confidentiality. We will be filing appeals on these responses.

Additionally, we filed 03 first appeals, with MeitY on CERT-In Direction (iii) and (v), as well as on the reason behind the suspension of Twitter handles during the Punjab internet shutdown in March. We received 03 responses to previous first appeals filed, on the Grievance Appellate Committee(s) and the CERT-In Direction (iii) mentioned above.

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 blocksurvey 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 authored by Policy Intern Ishika Ray Chaudhuri and reviewed by the IFF Policy Team.

Important Documents:

  1. Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for April, 2023, dated May 6, 2023. (link)
  2. Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for March, 2023, dated April 7, 2023. (link)

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