Institutions can help find complex balance between privacy and online safety. India’s IT Rules do not meet good institutional design.

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A battle rages for the soul of the internet, and there are no easy answers. For several decades, tech companies and governments have waged a battle on whether the latter should be able to access encrypted data that is stored by the former. The internet boom has now embedded tech companies in many aspects of our everyday lives — how we communicate with each other, what we see and think, etc.

The stakes in this battle have risen, and governments…

New report by Pollicy highlights nine modes of economic extractivism from Africa that are abetted by the rise of tech companies.

Ghosts of the past never truly let our present be free. Instead, in ways both hidden and visible, they spread their tentacles and constrict our experience and imagination of the world. In the wide sweep of human history, we see even minor events reverberate in unpredictable ways centuries later. How could we then expect something as pervasive and dehumanising as colonialism to cede ground to a seemingly benign and free internet? Quite to the contrary, technology has merely turned…

On 11 June, I moderated a panel discussion on the promise and perils of strategic litigation on digital rights. Here’s what I learnt.

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From the outside, strategic litigation looks like glamorous work. Picture an eloquent lawyer - the defender of human rights - rattling arguments and making an impassioned plea. High-stakes courtroom battles, with the virtuous lawyer fighting the coercive impulses of governments and the greed of private corporations. There’s something mystical about strategic litigation, especially when one considers that so many hard-fought battles on privacy and digital rights have come through these very means.

As a non-lawyer, I was…

New rules provide the government unaccountable power over free online speech, violating separation of power from an erstwhile judicial role

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We live in unprecedented times, where technology is creating new and complex problems. Technology is changing the balance of power between governments, corporations, and individuals. A re-alignment is happening as we speak. Many competing interests are at play. Societies need to find fora where we can find a middle ground that is fair and equitable. The sole discretion of governments is clearly not that forum. …

  1. Bringing a framework for consent managers while the privacy bill is still not there can create confusion. For e.g., privacy bill says data auditors will create ratings, but #DEPA says consent managers will. @cis_india analysis points to many such issues
  2. The @GoI_MeitY’s National Strategy of Blockchain joins similar strategies by @NITIAayog, National Informatics Center, and an Inter-ministerial committee. @cis_india analysis thus calls for harmonisation, and a more critical look at informational concerns.
  3. Open government data platforms in Brazil, Estonia allow the public and government to co-create datasets. Helps incentivise more disclosure, and builds demand for open data. Also…

  • Digital Rights Lawyers Initiative filed a class action suit against FinTech apps that access a person’s contact list and threaten to send out messages informing that the person hasn’t paid a loan in time
  • Research ICT Africa’s policy brief explored how tech can be used to make welfare more accessible. An earlier 10-country After-Access Survey, access to social protection was only 12.8% in Africa. Partially explained by high unbanked population (55%).
  • Paradigm Initiative issues a press release on Gazette Nigeria’s claim that the Nigerian Government has disrupted its services on all telecommunications networks. …

  1. By dissecting six cases ranging from porn ban to streaming services regulation, @VrindaBhandari and @anjakovacs find that efforts aimed at “protecting” women often end up making them subject to state control and weakening their digital rights. Full paper:
  2. The non-personal data committee report set off intense discussions on the role (if any) of the state in managing ‘community’ data. New paper by @DataGovNetwork evaluates jurisprudence on natural resources to see how much of it is applicable to data. Link:
  3. Biden’s inauguration is an opportunity to revisit the US TikTok ban. As @amannair_ argues, there are sound economic and…

1) Paradigm Initiative joined a group of global digital rights organisations to file an amicus brief in the ongoing US case filed by WhatsApp against the NSO Group (of Pegasus spyware infamy). It argues that NSO should be held accountable for privacy violations

2) Research ICT Africa analysed 14 African countries and found adoption of facial recognition in eight, smart cities in seven, and smart policing in six. Often without regulatory safeguards — e.g. 8 either have no or un-enforced privacy law.

3) Paradigm Initiative announced the launch of the Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum (DRIF21), a pan-Africa…

  1. Online consent is broken, but we finally have clues about what could work instead. @Varad_Pande and I write an op-ed for @IndianExpress. Builds on years of work by folks like @SmritiParsheera, @resanering, @rahmanfaiza6 @phaldea, @teninthemorning & others
  2. Non-personal data report is a much improved version, but lacks specificity to ensure its lofty vision. Will benefit from better institutional design, more incentives/accountability, and less govt role. Summary of my comments at @medianama event last week
  3. Last week’s edition of @DIRI_ISB’s #IndiaPulse focuses on value of e-way bills and shows that (i) TG, AP and Punjab recovered fastest, by Jun…

Committee on non-personal data released a much-improved second report. It should fill the substantial gaps in incentives and enforcement

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Late last year, the Government-appointed committee on non-personal data released its second report. The first report, released in Sept ’20, had raised fears of ‘nationalisation of data’ and harming the commercial interests of data-based companies. The second report addresses several issues that were raised, and is a substantial improvement over the first. For a detailed comparison of the first and second report, you can read Ikigai Law’s summary.

There’s much to like in this new report. First among them is the…

Subhashish Bhadra

Principal, Omidyar Network. Rhodes Scholar, Stephanian. Investing in privacy and good ID. Researching on economics of data. Photo By: Access Ventures.

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