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Call For Digital Fellowship 2022: A Conversation With Past Digital Rights Fellows At CCG

Radhika Roy
25 Dec 2021 2:39 PM GMT
Call For Digital Fellowship 2022: A Conversation With Past Digital Rights Fellows At CCG
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With increasing internet penetration and the rapid increase of internet users in the country, digital rights have become a core focus within the ambit of the protection of fundamental rights. In the last few years, there have been several important judicial pronouncements stemming from digital rights litigation, whether it was the landmark Puttaswamy I judgement upholding the...

With increasing internet penetration and the rapid increase of internet users in the country, digital rights have become a core focus within the ambit of the protection of fundamental rights. In the last few years, there have been several important judicial pronouncements stemming from digital rights litigation, whether it was the landmark Puttaswamy I judgement upholding the fundamental right to privacy in the Indian Constitution, or the more recent Anuradha Bhasin judgment which clarified that the right to freedom of expression via the medium of internet was a fundamental right. However, several vital questions relating to freedom of expression and privacy in the digital age are yet to be clarified by the courts. These cases will define India's digital rights landscape for at least the next decade, if not longer. However, digital rights litigation in India is currently facing significant challenges, including constraints in terms of research capacity and domain expertise.

To address these issues, the Centre for Communication Governance (CCG) at National Law University Delhi, being the only academic research centre dedicated to working on information technology law and policy in India as well as the leading centre on information technology law and policy in Asia, has initiated 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 relating to digital rights; 2) To engage in and produce legal and policy research around the theme of digital rights. 3) To build an inclusive and mutually supportive digital rights and technology policy community in India with a long-term vision for shaping the development of law and policy in this domain in India. CCG provides mentoring and regular feedback to the Fellows, guides their policy and legal research and writing, and undertakes capacity building sessions for the Fellows during the course of the Fellowship.

CCG's DIGITAL Fellowship 2021 was a resounding success that generated legal research in digital rights that will inevitably have a long-lasting impact on Indian jurisprudence and policy-making. LiveLaw had a conversation with the 2021 Digital Fellows – Thulasi K. Raj, Krishnesh Bapat and Suhavi Arya to gauge the importance of such a fellowship in the Indian landscape, as well as their experience as a Fellow at CCG.

Q: What was your experience during the Fellowship?
A: Raj: I thoroughly enjoyed the Fellowship. It is a great idea to bring like-minded lawyers together who are interested in the issues of free speech and privacy and its interaction with digital technology. Through CCG's efforts, I was able to interact and collaborate with academics and lawyers committed to digital rights. In sessions facilitated by CCG, we discussed the pressing issues in this area in workshops, seminars and this gave us an opportunity to exchange ideas. The Fellowship also allowed us to engage in cases relating to freedom of speech, constitutionality of sedition law, hate speech, criminal matters involving offences like blasphemy and their free speech implications. I was personally involved in cases seeking resumption of offline classes (as opposed to online) for children in public schools, expansion of postal voting, etc.
Arya: I had a very unique experience at the Fellowship. I was assigned to two host organisations – the office of Mr. Shadan Farasat AOR (ASC-NCT), and Chakravorty, Samson & Munoth, both based in Delhi. Both the offices did very different work and because of that, I had a very interesting and enlightening 10 months. Getting to see the work culture and work in two different offices was a distinct experience for me. Additionally, CCG provided us with mentoring and support by organising capacity-building sessions and roundtables with various experts in the field. CCG had regular weekly calls with each of us Fellows where we could discuss our work, policy responses and writing and gain insight and feedback. I would encourage all young lawyers, who are looking to understand and participate in the rights-based legal space, to apply for this Fellowship.
Bapat: My year as a CCG Digital Rights Fellow was extremely rewarding. I was hosted by the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), and I got an opportunity to work with a motivated team on several cases that have had a profound impact on digital rights. I am thankful to CCG for organising the Fellowship. At the completion of the Fellowship, I joined IFF as an Associate Litigation Counsel.
Q. What was your experience in engaging with the digital rights and tech policy space?

A. Raj: The field of digital rights and tech policy is broad. The issues range from criminal laws impeding on free speech to recent rules and laws like the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. There have been concerns that these laws may be overbroad and restrict permissible speech – whether offline or online. Various such rules impose prior restraint on the printer, publisher or the author of the content. These laws may also create 'a chilling effect' on speech. Engaging with this field allows working on many of these issues and is a fulfilling experience.

Arya: It's important to understand that the digital rights space is still new in India. While most of India has smart phones and access to the internet, many people still do not understand the concept of digital rights. I worked on issues closely linked to freedom of expression, privacy, bodily autonomy and surveillance. Almost all of my work during the Fellowship derived some strength from the landmark Puttaswamy judgement that upheld the constitutional right to privacy in India.

Bapat: The digital rights/tech policy space is exciting. Every day there are developments that require engagement. The Government has been pushing towards digitisation which is encouraging, but presents a range of issues such as the impact on individual rights, digital divide, and excessive data collection by both public and private entities. Thus, working in this space is more important than ever.

Q. Why do you think there is a need for an inclusive community around technology and digital rights?
A. Raj: Challenges to digital rights can be met to a considerable extent through various avenues such as policy proposals, working through the judicial and legal system, and academic and popular writing. This must be the prime focus of an inclusive community around digital rights. This also is an area that we must focus on. In addition, there are also collaborative benefits to having an inclusive community as well as the learnings from exchange of views among members of the digital rights community. For instance, some of us had come together to write a letter to the Supreme Court seeking restoration of complete virtual hearing, highlighting the benefits of equity and accessibility. Moreover, building an inclusive community expands the scope of digital rights and technology in India, which is an emerging stream in conventional litigation.

Arya: As I mentioned, since this space is new, there aren't a lot of organisations working on creating a safe and inclusive digital space for all genders and for all sections of society. This Fellowship is a great initiative by CCG to start building a community of young lawyers passionate about different aspects of privacy, technology, digital rights and freedom of expression in general. While digital technologies sometimes help people exercise basic rights such as the freedom of expression and access to information, they can also be used to restrict the same rights. A community of lawyers, policy makers, academics, and civil society, working together, around technology and digital rights would be great for this field.

Bapat: Since technology is a fast-paced sector, and regulation always succeeds advancements, collaboration is necessary to achieve effective results. Collaboration is also necessary because several issues, such as internet suspensions, are hyper-localised and are based on the local contexts of various states.
Q. What do you think are some of the key areas which young litigators should focus on?
Arya: Young litigators should focus on areas of their interest, since there is a higher chance of them excelling in those areas. Moreover, they should try to be up to date with legal news from their final year onwards which will help them realise what their interests are and increase their chances of success in the long run. Upcoming areas such as artificial intelligence, data protection, and surveillance would also be good areas to focus on. One should also focus on the digital ethics of it all.
Bapat: In this space, it is important to understand the technology and not just the law. An understanding of the technology enables more incisive engagement. It also enables litigators to more effectively assist the court.
The Fellowship will commence in February 2022. A monthly, non-negotiable stipend of INR 50,000/- will be provided to a full-time Fellow. CCG will be offering fellowships covering Full-Time and Part-Time fellows, and may include positions for Research Assistants and Interns.
Last date to apply for the Fellowship: December 28, 2021, 11:59 PM IST.
For more details regarding eligibility, the selection process and the nature of work, please visit: https://nludelhi.ac.in/UploadedImages/e5137326-b39c-4086-8569-6ef3a44c61af.pdf















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