Union government, Election Commission’s RTI portals face ‘emergency maintenance’, data leaks

For days, the Union government’s online RTI portal has been facing ‘emergency maintenance.’ The Department of Personnel and Training, which runs the site, has not commented.

Updated - March 08, 2024 04:54 pm IST

Published - March 08, 2024 11:49 am IST - NEW DELHI

The ECI which maintains its own RTI portal, patched its systems to fix an issue exposing RTI applicants’ personal data. Representative image

The ECI which maintains its own RTI portal, patched its systems to fix an issue exposing RTI applicants’ personal data. Representative image

For much of this week, the Union government’s RTI Online portal, for filing Right to Information applications to central government bodies, has been undergoing ‘emergency maintenance,’ preventing applicants from retrieving their filed applications conveniently. Meanwhile, it emerged that the Election Commission of India (ECI), which maintains its own RTI portal, patched its systems to fix an issue exposing RTI applicants’ personal data, a security vulnerability that was disclosed by security researcher Karan Saini to the news portal TechCrunch

The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-in) coordinated with the ECI to resolve the vulnerability, it told TechCrunch in a statement, adding that it had fixed the issue since.

This was not the only issue on the Election Commission’s RTI portal, which had been facing issues accepting payments through its payment gateway. While the payment gateway is now working and applications are going through, the accepted methods have been limited to net banking and credit/debit cards, even though Razorpay typically offers most digital payment methods on other sites it serves; at least one major bank, the State Bank of India, is not a listed option for Net Banking. The Hindu has reached out to the ECI and Razorpay for comment.

As for the Union government’s RTI Online portal, which was launched in 2013, users have been able to login to the portal and file fresh applications, but cannot see lists of applications they have filed from the website — to view status of an application, applicants have to retrieve the filing number manually and view its status . An error on the site claims that there is ongoing “emergency maintenance” that will last for a “few minutes”. The error has persisted for almost a week.

The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), under the Ministry of Home Affairs, runs the RTI Online portal. The DoPT did not respond to queries by The Hindu. A technical support agent for the website said they had no information on the cause of the current downtime, and that the issue may take upwards of fifteen days to resolve. Public authorities continue to be able to access the government side of the portal and process applications, a Public Information Officer working with a government body told The Hindu

The RTI portals maintained by different governments have had a spotty record in the last few years. In August 2023, data of applications before 2022 went missing from the portal without explanation. The DoPT restored that data after The Hindu’s report on the change, and added a message that “[t]o make the RTI online portal faster, archival mechanism has been implemented.” The site has faced speed and availability issues at different instances over the years.

The Telangana RTI portal had gone down that same month, as officials said that “essential training” for government officers to use the portal was still underway. The site was down again in February, and was restored after the Bharat Rashtra Samithi highlighted the issue on X, formerly Twitter.

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