2020 in Review: Transparency for our digital rights

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tl;dr

Throughout 2020, we have tried to bring about awareness and transparency to the various policies and projects that the Central and State government have developed and introduced. By utilising the Right to Information Act, 2005 as well as by way of two data-driven projects, we have tried to bring accountability in the working of every public authority. These transparency efforts are towards ensuring that the gap between the public and public policy can be bridged and more people get to engage in processes that set the digital frameworks that govern their present and future.

The digital transparency initiative

The RTI Act has helped us tremendously this year in uncovering important details about various actions taken by the Central and State governments throughout the year. It has lead to media reporting, informed commentary and better public feedback. Such good faith engagement helps evidence based policy making, increases the justification and reasoning for public policy processes. We are providing a breakdown in terms of numbers below.

Type of Application No. of Applications filed in 2020
Right to Information Requests 246
First Appeals 36
Second Appeals 5
Urgency Applications 5

Some highlights of the information we unearthed can be accessed below:

  1. RTI response reveals CCTV deployment by Chandigarh Police without legal safeguards.
  2. Delhi Police admits to using drones on civilians without any publicly available legal guidelines in place.
  3. A look at Aarogya Setu through the Right to Information lens.
  4. Licensed Service Area Units of the Department of Telecom sought bulk Call Data Records from Telecom Service Providers as per official documents revealed through RTI.
  5. RTI responses from MP and Meghalaya show compliance failure with the Anuradha Bhasin Internet Shutdown decision.
  6. RTI responses from Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat show compliance failure with the Anuradha Bhasin Internet Shutdown decision
  7. MEA's RTI response on International Statement on E2E Encryption.
  8. The non-personal data policy process remains opaque and problematic.

Additionally, we also made our RTI resources available to various third party organisations who were unable to utilise these tools on their own due to various factors such as a high risk factor or lack of familiarity with the RTI platform. One such group of organisations are the environmental collectives whose websites were blocked by the Government who reached out to us for support.

We have already started a new practice of publishing a monthly RTI report to increase transparency around our transparency work. Read the report for the month of December, 2020 here! With your support this work will only grow next year.

Project Panoptic

In addition to utilising the RTI Act as a measure to increase transparency around various ongoing issues, this year we also harnessed it specifically to help us in building our facial recognition technology mapping project “Project Panoptic”. With the help of RTI requests (and also Registrar of Companies and Tendering data) as one of the fields of information, we were able to collate information on various ongoing facial recognition technology projects which we then showcased on the Panoptic platform to increase transparency around these projects and raise public awareness around this highly invasive technology.

  1. Illegal use of Facial Recognition for Voter Verification in Telangana.
  2. Illegal use of facial recognition technology by the Delhi Police akin to mass surveillance.
  3. Project Panoptic: Right to Information Updates from Delhi Police, Kolkata Police and Telangana State Technology Services

The project aims to build a digital public resource that is intended to aid transparency and accountability around the deployment of facial recognition in India. It will uncover information, analyse it and then present it through an interactive digital resource. Such a resource will be instrumental in assisting policy and legal advocacy as well as drive issue specific public campaigns.

This public resource will then be used to drive advocacy on the issue through campaigns and online advocacy. This will enable strategic litigation at the Central and State level by diverse individuals and collectives based on individual harms and injuries that may be suffered by them. The broader aim would be to drive policy changes particularly with regard to data protection legislation in India as well as the introduction of a specific sectoral legislation for facial recognition technology.

The Zombie Section 66A Tracker

In addition utilising the RTI Act for furthering transparency, we have also worked throughout the year on data driven projects such as the Zombie Tracker which aims to raise awareness and demand accountability for the ongoing use of the unconstitutional S.66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. In March 2015, S.66A was declared unconstitutional by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal v. Union Of India (AIR 2015 SC 1523) as it violated the right to freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. The effect of this would be that all pending cases would be dismissed and no fresh cases would be instituted under S. 66A.

However, a 2018 study, ‘Section 66A and Other Legal Zombies’, highlighted the continued use of S. 66A, including cases registered after the Shreya Singhal decision. To meet this challenge we have come up with a data driven, evidence based solution in partnership with CivicData Labs. We have worked in partnership with CDL to build a tool to track cases under S. 66A at the district level between 1st January 2008 till 15th February 2020. We intend to analyse the data to identify and highlight the gaps in the system, put forth recommendations and advocate for a stronger, more accountable and transparent system. This work done substantially through the course of 2020 will see an early 2021 release, hopefully in the month of January, 2021.

Do you have suggestions on what we can do better? Reach out to us by filing in this form and letting us know what we should focus towards in 2021, or let us know how we can make our existing work more effective.

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