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Delhi High Court Directs CIC To Decide RTI Application Seeking Statistics Of State Sponsored Electronic Surveillance Within 8 Weeks

Akshita Saxena
2 Dec 2021 7:39 AM GMT
Delhi High Court Directs CIC To Decide RTI Application Seeking Statistics Of State Sponsored Electronic Surveillance Within 8 Weeks
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The Delhi High Court today directed the Central Information Commission (CIC) to decide within 8 weeks, the appeals filed by Apar Gupta, founder of the Internet Freedom Foundation, against rejection of his RTI applications seeking statistical information on state sponsored electronic surveillance. Justice Yashwant Varma observed,"This Court had requested the counsel appearing for CIC to submit...

The Delhi High Court today directed the Central Information Commission (CIC) to decide within 8 weeks, the appeals filed by Apar Gupta, founder of the Internet Freedom Foundation, against rejection of his RTI applications seeking statistical information on state sponsored electronic surveillance.

Justice Yashwant Varma observed,

"This Court had requested the counsel appearing for CIC to submit a time frame within which it will be possible for the Commission to decide the appeals. Counsel states that all endeavor shall be made to dispose of the pending appeals within 8 weeks. The statement so made is recorded and accepted."

Gupta had moved the Court alleging that three years have lapsed since he filed as many as six RTI applications with the CPIO, Cyber and Information Security under the Ministry of Home Affairs, seeking total number of surveillance orders passed by the Competent Authority during a given time period.

On the last date, the Court had directed CIC to determine a time frame within which within which the pending second appeal may be decided.

Accordingly, the counsel appearing for CIC submitted today that there has been a backlog because of pandemic and the Commission is presently hearing hearing petitions of 2019, whereas Gupta's appeal was filed this year.

"So you are feeling heavily overburdened? I have no problem in passing a direction to decide...but we will also record your inability to deiced it expeditiously," the Bench observed orally.

It added,

"Tell us a reasonable time. Don't tell us this roster business of 2019…I don't know about your pendency. You are not some authority hearing litigations inter-party."

Finally, the Court ordered that all endeavor shall be made to dispose of the pending appeals within 8 weeks. It further permitted the petitioner to place additional material before the Commission in support of its prayers in the pending appeal.

Gupta had sought the aggregate number of orders passed during the period between 2016-2018, to validate interception, monitoring or decryption citing cases of emergency; for prevention of any offence affecting the sovereignty or integrity, defence, or security of the State, etc.

He had also sought the total number of approval requests received during the said period, that were not approved or revoked by the Competent Authority.

Further, Gupta had sought total number of orders issued by the Competent Authority to authorize interception for a continued period more than 15 days/ rescinded prior to the sunset period.

The information was denied to him by the CPIO, and his statutory appeal was dismissed by the First Appellate Authority, stating that the data could not be disclosed since the records had been destroyed.

The permission to submit additional material was sought to establish that the material could not have been weeded out during pendency of the RTI application.

"I am not ready to buy that the information was weeded out/ destroyed. Contention of MHA is that they have the right to destroy the records. They are conflating the issue of material with someone else. I only need statistical material," Senior Advocate Trideep Pais argued for the Petitioner.

Case Title: Apar Gupta v. CPIO, MHA

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