Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for September 2022

tl;dr

For the month of September 2022, IFF has filed 09 Right to Information (“RTI”) applications, 02 first appeals and appeared in 02 second appeals hearings before the Central Information Commission. In significant responses, Chief Electoral Officers of several states and union territories have stated that linking Aadhaar with Voter ID is purely optional and no names can be deleted from the electoral roll due to failure of non-furnishing of Aadhaar numbers.

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 publish and disclose information to citizens proactively.

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 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 that will protect the right to privacy. We filed 09 RTI applications with various authorities this month to ask for information pertaining to 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 03 applications:

  1. The Director General of Police, Andhra Pradesh, on the use of facial recognition apps to identify protestors and the attendance of teachers.
  2. The Standardisation, Testing and Quality Certification (STQC) on the use of facial recognition by them to mark attendance of employees.

For more information on the use of facial recognition technology and how it increases mass surveillance, visit IFF’s Project Panoptic.

We also filed RTI applications with

  1. The Director General of Police, Tamil Nadu, on the creation of social media committees.
  2. The Home & Political Department, Assam, on the cyberdome project of the government.
  3. The Ministry of Law and Justice on the legal opinions sought by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and the Ministry of Communications.
  4. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on the statement made by the Minister (IT) Ashwini Vaishnaw on the launch of CyTrain Setu.
  5. The Department of Telecommunications on the draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022.
  6. The Ministry of Culture on harghartiranga[dot]com.

Apart from this, we also filed 2 first appeals with:

  1. The Hyderabad Transport Corporation and the Telangana State Council for Higher Education over non-response to our RTI applications.

Significant responses received:

  1. In response to our application on the bulk-data sharing with the Department of Customs, the Ministry of Finance has responded that the PNRI Regulations, 2022 have a deferred implementation, and the details of deanonymisation techniques will be clarified in due course. Read our Transparency Report for August 2022 here.

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.

Second appeals before the Central Information Commission

In September 2022, we also appeared before the Chief Information Commission in a second appeal matter relating to website blocking by Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited and the Department of Telecommunications.

In her order in the DoT second appeal, IC Vanaja N. Sarna directed the CPIO to “send complete information in the form of copies of such order/judgement/decree received from any competent court (in the form of CD) or the case reference as given earlier for the period till December 2021 within 15 days from the date of receipt of the order.” The Hon’ble IC also issued a warning to the CPIO for not attending the CIC hearing.

In her order in the MTNL second appeal, IC Vanaja N. Sarna issued a strict warning to the then CPIO Rahul Chowdhry and the GM BB (P&D) for not providing a correct and complete reply at the relevant time and denying the information.

Help us help you

If you want us to file an RTI application on an issue which 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 August 2022 dated September 01, 2022. (link)
  2. Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for July 2022 dated August 01, 2022. (link)
  3. Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for June 2022 dated July 04, 2022. (link)

The post was drafted by Gyan P Tripathi, Policy Trainee, IFF, and reviewed by IFF staffer Prateek Waghre.