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