A conversation with former Digital Rights Fellows at CCG


With the increasing Internet penetration and the rapid increase in Internet users in the country, digital rights have become a central issue in the context of the protection of fundamental rights. In the past few years there have been several major court pronouncements due to digital rights litigation, be it the milestone Puttaswamy I Judgment confirming the fundamental right to privacy in the Indian Constitution, or the more recent Anuradha Bhasin Judgment that made it clear that the right to freedom of expression through the Internet is a fundamental right. However, some important issues related to freedom of expression and privacy in the digital age have yet to be resolved by the courts. These cases will define India’s digital rights landscape for at least the next decade, if not longer. However, the digital rights litigation in India is currently facing significant challenges, including limitations in research capacity and expertise.

To address these issues Center for Communication Governance (CCG) around National Law University Delhi, as the only academic research center devoted to work on information technology law and politics in India, as well as the leading information technology law and politics center in Asia, has the DIGITAL (Digital Rights and Inclusive Technology for All) Fellowship.

The Digital Fellowship is a 10-month fellowship with the following objectives: 1) To support the development of digital rights by providing high quality legal and research support in cases related to digital rights; 2) Engage in and produce legal and political research on digital rights. 3) Building an inclusive and mutually supportive community for digital rights and technology policy in India with a long term vision for shaping legal and policy development in this area in India. CCG provides mentoring and regular feedback to the Fellows, conducts their political and legal research and writing, and holds capacity-building sessions for the Fellows during the term of the Fellowship.

CCG’s DIGITAL Fellowship 2021 was a resounding success that spawned legal research on digital rights that will inevitably have a lasting impact on Indian jurisdiction and politics. LiveLaw in conversation with the Digital Fellows 2021 – Thulasi K. Raj, Krishnesh Bapat and Suhavi Arya to assess the importance of such a fellowship in the Indian landscape and her experience as a fellow at CCG.

Q: What was your experience during the fellowship?

ONE: Raj: I really enjoyed the fellowship. It’s a great idea to bring together like-minded lawyers who are interested in the topics of freedom of expression and privacy and how they interact with digital technology. Through CCG’s efforts, I have been able to interact and collaborate with academics and lawyers advocating for digital rights. In sessions moderated by CCG, we discussed the pressing questions in this area in workshops and seminars, giving us the opportunity to exchange ideas. The scholarship also enabled us to engage in cases related to freedom of expression, the constitutionality of hate speech laws, hate speech, criminal matters involving crimes such as blasphemy and its impact on freedom of expression. I have personally been involved in cases where the resumption of offline teaching (as opposed to online teaching) for children in public schools, the expansion of postal voting, etc.
Aria: I had a very unique experience on the Fellowship. I have been assigned to two host organizations – the office of Mr. Shadan Farasat AOR (ASC-NCT) and Chakravorty, Samson & Munoth, both based in Delhi. Both offices did very different jobs and that gave me a very interesting and insightful 10 months. Getting to know the work culture and working in two different offices was a special experience for me. In addition, CCG supported us by organizing capacity building meetings and round tables with various experts in this field through mentoring and support. CCG had regular weekly phone calls with each of us Fellows to discuss our work, policy responses and writing, and to get insights and feedback. I encourage all young attorneys who want to understand and participate in the legal based legal space to apply for this scholarship.

Bapat: My year as a CCG Digital Rights Fellow has been extremely rewarding. I hosted the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) and had the opportunity to work with a motivated team on several cases that have profoundly impacted digital rights. I am grateful to CCG for organizing the fellowship. After completing the fellowship, I joined IFF as Associate Litigation Counsel.

Q. What is your experience of dealing with digital rights and technology policy?

A. Raj: The field of digital rights and technology policy is broad. Topics range from criminal laws that hinder free expression to more recent rules and laws like the Information Technology Rules (Broker Guidelines and Code of Ethics for Digital Media), 2021. There have been concerns that these laws are too broad and allow expression of opinion could restrict – whether offline or online. Several of these rules impose prior restrictions on printers, publishers, or content writers. These laws can also have a “deterrent effect” on language. Working in this field enables you to work on many of these topics and is a fulfilling experience.

Aria: It is important to understand that the digital rights field is still new in India. Although most of India has smartphones and internet access, many people still do not understand the concept of digital rights. I worked on issues closely related to freedom of expression, privacy, physical autonomy, and surveillance. Almost all of my work during the fellowship gained a certain power from the landmark Puttaswamy Judgment confirming India’s constitutional right to privacy.

Bapat: The area of ​​digital rights / technology policy is exciting. Every day there are developments that require commitment. The government is pushing for digitization, which is encouraging, but it poses a number of issues such as the impact on individual rights, the digital divide and excessive data collection by both public and private entities. Therefore, working in this area is more important than ever.

Q. Why do you think an inclusive technology and digital rights community is needed?

A. Raj: Digital rights challenges can be addressed to a significant extent through a variety of avenues, such as policy proposals, working through the judicial and legal systems, and academic and popular literature. This needs to be the main focus of an inclusive community around digital rights. We have to concentrate on this area as well. In addition, there are also benefits to working together through an inclusive community, as well as lessons learned from the exchange of views among members of the digital rights community. For example, some of us had come together to write a letter to the Supreme Court calling for a full virtual hearing to be restored, highlighting the benefits of equity and accessibility. In addition, building an inclusive community is expanding the scope of digital rights and technology in India, which is an emerging trend in conventional litigation.

Aria: As mentioned earlier, since this space is new, not many organizations are working to create a safe and inclusive digital space for all genders and all segments of society. This fellowship is a great initiative by CCG to build a community of young lawyers who are passionate about various aspects of privacy, technology, digital rights and freedom of expression in general. While digital technologies sometimes help people exercise basic rights like freedom of expression and access to information, they can also be used to restrict those same rights. A community of lawyers, policymakers, academics and civil society working together on technology and digital rights would be great in this area.

Bapat: Because technology is a fast-moving sector and regulation always follows progress, collaboration is required to produce effective results. Cooperation is also necessary because several issues, such as the blocking of the Internet, are hyperlocalized and based on the local contexts of different countries.

Q. What do you think are some of the key areas that young litigators should focus on?
Aria: Young litigators should focus on areas of their interest as their chances are higher in those areas. In addition, from the last year onwards, they should try to keep themselves up to date with legal news that will help them identify their interests and increase their chances of success in the long term. Future areas such as artificial intelligence, data protection and surveillance would also be good focuses. One should also focus on the digital ethics of it all.

Bapat: In this area, it is important to understand the technology, not just the law. Understanding the technology allows for a more concise engagement. It also enables litigants to assist the court more effectively.

The scholarship begins in February 2022. A full-time scholar will be granted a monthly, non-negotiable scholarship of INR 50,000 / -. CCG offers scholarships for full-time and part-time scholars and may include positions for research assistants and interns.

Last application deadline for the scholarship: December 28, 2021, 11:59 p.m. IS.


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