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RTI portal silently disables new user registration, here’s why this matters

No longer being able to create an account on the RTI portal is more than an inconvenience, it’s a privacy concern.

The government’s Right to Information (RTI) portal is no longer accepting new user registrations. While existing users can log in, the sign-up button on the login page has been removed and the new user registration page returns a “Not Found” error.

The National Informatics Centre, which manages the portal, confirmed to MediaNama that this is a permanent move but did not provide any reason why. We do not know how long new user registration has been disabled, but the issue was flagged by activist Srikanth Lakshmanan on Twitter on November 9. Of course, we have filed an RTI about the RTI portal to find out more.

Shailesh Gandhi, the former Central Information Commissioner, told MediaNama:

“In the absence of any reasoning for this change, one can only speculate that they want to make the experience less user-friendly”

How does this affect the RTI filing experience?

While you do not need to have an account for filing RTIs, not having one poses the following inconveniences and privacy concerns:

  1. Limits ability to track multiple RTIs: Having an account allowed the user to track the status of multiple RTIs conveniently, but users without an account will now have to manually search for the status of each RTI by providing registration number, email ID, and captcha verification or mandatorily provide their mobile number for bulk tracking using the new View History page. Providing a mobile number makes digital surveillance of filer possible, which in a post-Pegasus world is a serious concern, Srikanth explained.
  2. Filing out user details every time: Users without an account will also have to fill in details like email, name, gender, and address, for each RTI they file, making the process of filing RTIs longer and cumbersome. “Good way to waste time of people who file RTIs,” Srikanth remarked.

Could increase cost for the government

Separately, using an OTP-based authentication on the View History page poses a non-trivial cost to the government because new users without an account who want to bulk track RTI statues will have to provide a mobile number and perform OTP authentication for each session, which involves paying an external service provider, Srikanth explains. On the other hand, logging in with email and password, as was the case earlier, did not cost extra for the government.

Login fields removed from the homepage

Apart from removing new user registration completely, the RTI portal is discouraging logins of existing users as well by removing the username and password field from the homepage.

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The login fields were removed last week and replaced with a banner of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as shown below:

 

Screenshot of RTI homepage as on Nov 3 using Wayback Machine

Screenshot of RTI portal as of Tuesday (Nov 9)

Users can still log in by clicking on the login link in the menu bar, but the removal from the homepage adds a step to the process.

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