RTI rejections

Sachin - November 1, 2011

The Right to Information Act, 2005, contains several exemptions which enable public authorities to deny requests for information. RTI Annual Return Reports for 2005-2010 give detailed information on use of these exemptions to reject RTI requests. Exemptions to requests for information under the Act are primarily embodied in three sections – section 8, section 11, and section 24. Section 8 lists nine specific exemptions ranging from sovereignty of India to trade secrets. Sec 11 provides protection to confidential third party information. Sec 24 exempts certain security and intelligence organizations from the purview of the Act. Of these, sections 8(1)(j), 8(1)(d) and 8(1)(e) are respectively the three most frequently invoked exemptions for the period 2005-2010, cumulatively amounting to almost three-fourths of all exemptions invoked.   orange Section 8(1)(j) provides protection to personal information of individuals from disclosure in the absence of larger public interest. This exemption was invoked over 30,000 times during 2005-2010, which amounts to almost 40% of all invocations of exemptions. Among ministries, the Finance Ministry has invoked this sub-section the most, followed by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. Section 8(1)(d) provides protection to trade secrets and intellectual property from disclosure in the absence of larger public interest. This exemption was invoked almost 15,000 times during 2005-2010, which constitutes 18% of all invocations of exemptions. As with sec 8(1)(j), the Finance Ministry has utilized this exemption the most, followed by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. Section 8(1)(e) provides protection to information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship from disclosure in the absence of larger public interest. This exemption was invoked 11,639 times during 2005-2010, which accounts for almost 15% of all invocations of exemptions. The Finance Ministry has invoked this exemption more than any other ministry, both overall and for each individual year during 2005-2010. The Finance Ministry accounts for more than 50% of all invocations of this exemption, having invoked it over 6000 times. The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas is second, with a little over 1000 invocations of this exemption. Ministry-wise Rejections As discussed above, Finance Ministry has a large number of rejections, perhaps because of the larger number of requests that it receives.  It is also possible that the Finance Ministry receives a larger number of requests related to private and confidential information (such as Income Tax returns) as well as those which are held in a fiduciary capacity (such as details of accounts in nationalised banks).  Adjusted for the number of requests received, the Finance Ministry tops the rejection rate at 24%, followed by the Prime Minister's Office (12%) and the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (11%). blue

On June 6, 2022, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology released the draft amendments to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (IT Rules, 2021) for public feedback.  The IT Rules were notified on February 25, 2021, under the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act).  The Ministry noted that there is a need to amend the Rules to keep up with the challenges and gaps emerging in an expanding digital ecosystem.  In this blog post, we give a brief background to the IT Rules, 2021 and explain the key proposed changes to the Rules.

Background to the IT Rules, 2021

The IT Act exempts intermediaries from liability for user-generated content on their platform provided they meet certain due diligence requirements.  Intermediaries are entities that store or transmit data on behalf of other persons and include telecom and internet service providers, online marketplaces, search engines, and social media sites.  IT Rules specify the due diligence requirements for the intermediaries.  These include: (i) informing users about rules and regulations, privacy policy, and terms and conditions for usage of its services, including types of content which are prohibited, (ii) expeditiously taking down content upon an order from the government or courts, (iii) providing a grievance redressal mechanism to resolve complaints from users about violation of Rules, and (iv) enabling identification of the first originator of the information on its platform under certain conditions.  It also specifies a framework for content regulation of online publishers of news and current affairs and curated audio-visual content.  For an analysis of the IT Rules 2021 please see here.

Key changes proposed to the IT Rules 2021

Key changes proposed by the draft amendments are as follows:

  • Obligations of intermediaries:  The 2021 Rules require the intermediary to “publish” rules and regulations, privacy policy and user agreement for access or usage of its services.   The Rules specify restrictions on the types of content that users are allowed to create, upload, or share.  The Rules require intermediaries to “inform” users about these restrictions.  Proposed amendments seek to expand the obligation on intermediaries to include: (i) “ensuring compliance” with rules and regulations, privacy policy, and user agreement, and (ii) "causing users to not" create, upload, or share prohibited content.
  • The proposed amendments also add that intermediaries should take all reasonable measures to ensure accessibility of their services to all users, with a reasonable expectation of due diligence, privacy, and transparency.   Further, intermediaries should respect the constitutional rights of all users.  The Ministry observed that such a change was necessary as several intermediaries have acted in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens.
  • Appeal mechanism against decisions of grievance officers:  The 2021 Rules require intermediaries to designate a grievance officer to address complaints regarding violations of the Rules.  The Ministry observed that there have been instances where these officers do not address the grievances satisfactorily or fairly.  A person aggrieved with the decision of the grievance officer needs to approach courts to seek redressal.  Hence, the draft amendments propose an alternative mechanism for such appeals.  A Grievance Appellate Committee will be formed by the central government to hear appeals against the decisions of grievance officers.  The Committee will consist of a chairperson and other members appointed by the central government through a notification.  The Committee is required to dispose of such appeals within 30 days from the date of receipt.  The concerned intermediary must comply with the order passed by the Committee.  Note that the proposed amendments do not restrict users from directly approaching courts.
  • Expeditious removal of prohibited content:  The 2021 Rules require intermediaries to acknowledge complaints regarding violation of Rules within 24 hours, and dispose of complaints within 15 days.  The proposed amendments add that the complaints concerning the removal of prohibited content must be addressed within 72 hours.  The Ministry observed that given the potential for virality of content over internet, a stricter timeline will help in removing prohibited content expeditiously.

Comments on the draft amendments are invited until July 6, 2022.