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Delhi High Court seeks the Central Government’s response to the petition calling for disclosure of information on e-surveillance.

Written by Vidisha Mathur

In the case of Apar Gupta v Central Information Commission, Ministry of Home Affairs, the Delhi High court has sought a response from the Central Government on the petition seeking statistical details regarding the state-sponsored e-surveillance under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

This petition was filed by Apar Gupta, lawyer and executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation. He, in December 2018, had sought, through 6 applications under the Information Technology Act, details of the orders passed under Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, between January 2016 and December 2018 which permitted e-surveillance; and details of the requests from various agencies for e-surveillance, number of requests that were approved or rejected and number of these wherein the surveillance was for more than 15 days. The applications were concerned with details such as the date, time, and duration of meetings of the Review Committee to review the orders.

The plea requested an aggregate figure to understand the extent of the surveillance permitted but didn’t seek any personally identifiable information. The Central Public Information Office (CPIO) disposed of the request because the information related to lawful interception, phone tapping, monitoring, or decryption was exempted from the RTI Act.

The petitioner challenged this order before the First Appellate Authority (FAA), which refused to interfere and then preferred a second appeal before the Central Information Commission (CIC), which agreed that the plea only sought statistical details and remanded it to the FAA to revisit and re-examine and decide cases, having heard both parties.

The petition states that CPIO had argued that the information sought by the petitioner was unavailable as the records were destroyed every six months as per the Information Technology Rules 2009. The petitioner contested this claim for similar information had been produced in other RTI applications before. The claim the government does not maintain records of authorization of e-surveillance is unlikely.

Gupta has contended before the High Court that though he has approached CIC against FAA again, and an application for an urgent hearing is filed, the appeals have not yet been heard. He submits that disclosing the information is in the public interest and that if the information has been destroyed, it is illegal. The petition requests that the Court frame guideline against the destruction of information sought under the RTI act.

Justice Yashwant Varma has requested the Central Government’s standing counsel Anurag Ahluwalia to file a response and has scheduled the matter to be heard in two weeks.

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