Call for Applications – Civil Liberties

The Centre for Communication Governance at the National Law University Delhi (CCG) invites applications for research positions in its Civil Liberties team on a full time basis.

About the Centre

The Centre for Communication Governance is the only academic research centre dedicated to working on the information law and policy in India and in a short span of four years has become a leading centre on information policy in Asia. It seeks to embed human rights and good governance within communication policy and protect digital rights in India through rigorous academic research and capacity building.

The Centre routinely works with a range of international academic institutions and policy organizations. These include the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University, the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy at the University of Oxford, the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, Hans Bredow Institute at the University of Hamburg and the Global Network of Interdisciplinary Internet & Society Research Centers. We engage regularly with government institutions and ministries such as the Law Commission of India, Ministry of Electronics & IT, Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry of Law & Justice and the International Telecommunications Union. We work actively to provide the executive and judiciary with useful research in the course of their decision making on issues relating to civil liberties and technology.

CCG has also constituted two advisory boards, a faculty board within the University and one consisting of academic members of our international networks. These boards will oversee the functioning of the Centre and provide high level inputs on the work undertaken by CCG from time to time.

About Our Work

The work at CCG is designed to build competence and raise the quality of discourse in research and policy around issues concerning civil liberties and the Internet, cybersecurity and global Internet governance. The research and policy output is intended to catalyze effective, research-led policy making and informed public debate around issues in technology and Internet governance.

The work of our civil liberties team covers the following broad areas:

  1. Freedom of Speech & Expression: Research in this area focuses on human rights and civil liberties in the context of the Internet and emerging communication technology in India. Research on this track squarely addresses the research gaps around the architecture of the Internet and its impact on free expression.
  2. Access, Markets and Public Interest: The research under this area will consider questions of access, including how the human right to free speech could help to guarantee access to the Internet. It would identify areas where competition law would need to intervene to ensure free, fair and human rights-compatible access to the Internet, and opportunities to communicate using online services. Work in this area will consider how existing competition and consumer protection law could be applied to ensure that freedom of expression in new media, and particularly the internet, is protected given market realities on the supply side. We will under this track put out material regarding the net neutrality concerns that are closely associated to the competition, innovation, media diversity and protection of human rights especially rights to free expression and the right to receive information and particularly to substantive equality across media. It will also engage with existing theories of media pluralism in this context.
  3. Privacy, Surveillance & Big Data: Research in this area focuses on surveillance as well as data protection practices, laws and policies. The work may be directed either at the normative questions that arise in the context of surveillance or data protection, or at empirical work, including data gathering and analysis, with a view to enabling policy and law makers to better understand the pragmatic concerns in developing realistic and effective privacy frameworks. This work area extends to the right to be forgotten and data localization.

Role

CCG is a young and continuously evolving organization and the members of the centre are expected to be active participants in building a collaborative, merit led institution and a lasting community of highly motivated young researchers.

Selected applicants will ordinarily be expected to design and produce units of publishable research with Director(s)/ senior staff members. They will also be recommending and assisting with designing and executing policy positions and external actions on a broad range of information policy issues.

Equally, they will also be expected to participate in other work, including writing opinion pieces, blog posts, press releases, memoranda, and help with outreach. The selected applicants will also represent CCG in the media and at other events, roundtables, and conferences and before relevant governmental, and other bodies. In addition, they will have organizational responsibilities such as providing inputs for grant applications, networking and designing and executing Centre events.

Qualifications

The Centre welcomes applications from candidates with advanced degrees in law, public policy and international relations.

  • All candidates must preferably be able to provide evidence of an interest in human rights / technology law and / or policy / Internet governance/ national security law as well. In addition, they must have a demonstrable capacity for high-quality, independent work.
  • In addition to written work, a project/ programme manager within CCG will be expected to play a significant leadership role. This ranges from proactive agenda-setting to administrative and team-building responsibilities.
  • Successful candidates for the project / programme manager position should show great initiative in managing both their own and their team’s workloads. They will also be expected to lead and motivate their team through high stress periods and in responding to pressing policy questions.

However, the length of your resume is less important than the other qualities we are looking for. As a young, rapidly-expanding organization, CCG anticipates that all members of the Centre will have to manage large burdens of substantive as well as administrative work in addition to research. We are looking for highly motivated candidates with a deep commitment to building information policy that supports and enables human rights and democracy.

At CCG, we aim very high and we demand a lot of each other in the workplace. We take great pride in high-quality outputs and value individuality and perfectionism. We like to maintain the highest ethical standards in our work and workplace, and love people who manage all of this while being as kind and generous as possible to colleagues, collaborators and everyone else within our networks. A sense of humour will be most welcome. Even if you do not necessarily fit requirements mentioned in the two bulleted points but bring to us the other qualities we look for, we will love to hear from you.

[The Centre reserves the right to not fill the position(s) if it does not find suitable candidates among the applicants.]

Positions

Based on experience and qualifications, successful applicants will be placed in the following positions. Please note that our interview panel has the discretion to determine which profile would be most suitable for each applicant.

  • Programme Officer (2-4 years’ work experience)
  • Project Manager (4-6 years’ work experience)
  • Programme Manager (6-8 years’ work experience)

A Master’s degree from a highly regarded programme might count towards work experience.

CCG staff work at the Centre’s offices at National Law University Delhi’s campus. The positions on offer are for duration of one year and we expect a commitment for two years.

Remuneration

The salaries will be competitive, and will usually range from ₹50,000 to ₹1,20,000 per month, depending on multiple factors including relevant experience, the position and the larger research project under which the candidate can be accommodated.

Where candidates demonstrate exceptional competence in the opinion of the interview panel, there is a possibility for greater remuneration.

Procedure for Application

Interested applicants are required to send the following information and materials by December 30, 2017 to ccgcareers@nludelhi.ac.in.

  1. Curriculum Vitae (maximum 2 double spaced pages)
  2. Expression of Interest in joining CCG (maximum 500 words).
  3. Contact details for two referees (at least one academic). Referees must be informed that they might be contacted for an oral reference or a brief written reference.
  4. One academic writing sample of between 1000 and 1200 words (essay or extract, published or unpublished).

Shortlisted applicants may be called for an interview.

 

Advertisements

Update from the Supreme Court – Aadhaar linking and Sabu Mathew George vs. Union of India

Aadhaar linking 

With regard to the pending matter of linking Aadhaar with certain services, the Bench stated that the hearing for interim relief would take place tomorrow (14/12). In addition, the Centre issued a notification on the 12th of December, stating that the deadline for linking Aadhaar with bank accounts, which was the 31st of December, was extended indefinitely. On the 13th of December however, this deadline was fixed as the 31st of March. Our coverage of the Aadhaar linking matter can be found here and here.

Sabu Mathew George vs. Union of India

Today, the Supreme Court heard the ongoing matter of Sabu Mathew George vs. Union of India. In 2008, a petition was filed to ban advertisements endorsing sex-selective abortions from search engine results. Advertisements endorsing sex selective abortions are illegal under Section 22 of the PNDT Act (The Pre-conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act), 1994 Act. Several orders have been passed over the last few years, the last of which was passed on April 13th, 2017. Following from these orders, the Court had directed the Centre to set up a nodal agency where complaints against sex selective ads could be lodged. The Court had also ordered the search engines involved to set up an in-house expert committee in this regard. The order dated April 13th stated that compliance with the mechanism in place would be checked hereinafter. Our blog posts covering these arguments and other issues relevant to search neutrality can be found on the following links (1, 2 and 3).

In today’s proceedings, the matter was disposed off.

Senior counsel Sanjay Parikh appearing for the petitioners started off by commenting on the working of the nodal agencies and the limits within which they function. He stated that search engines were ‘washing their hands off’ and trying to pawn off their responsibilities to the government.

Counsel for the respondents argued that the petitioners displayed a fundamentally incorrect understanding of how the internet functioned. They stated that a blanket ban on content, as desired by the petitioners, would not be possible.

The respondents then stated that problematic content was taken down in the time period stipulated in the earlier orders. The petitioners refuted this statement.

The respondents once again stated that the petitioners ‘betrayed a lack of understanding’ of how search engines functioned.

The petitioners stated that search engines have been much more proactive and have had more success in taking down content related to child sexual abuse material and terrorism. As per the petitioners, this implies that search engines are capable of removing content in an efficient manner.

The respondents stated that material relating to sexual abuse usually relates to images and other visuals, as opposed to search terms or words. They stated that this was an important distinction, and would determine the extent to which search engines could efficiently take down content.

Referring to the affidavit filed, the petitioners reiterated that the government and the nodal agency were ‘helpless’ and would need further cooperation to prevent content from disseminating.

To this, the respondents stated that the government of India should block problematic URLs.

The petitioners then drew attention to the magnitude of illegitimate content on the internet, by discussing statistics from a YouTube search.

At this point, Chief Justice Dipak Misra interjected by stating that nodal agencies had to function in a competent manner and ensure that complaints were addressed in the requisite time period.

The petitioners responded stating that nodal agencies were finding it difficult to efficiently regulate content, since the takedown of URLs did not affect the availability of related illegitimate content on the internet.

The respondents then outlined the constraints within which search engines functioned. They stated that a search engine could only de-index illegitimate content on the internet, and that the content would continue to exist on the internet otherwise. They remarked on safe-harbour exceptions and also stated that filtering and indexing is an algorithmic process, which could only be regulated to a certain extent. Reiterating on the algorithmic nature of the process, they stated that ‘one step could not be removed from the process’.

They also reassured the petitioners that any problematic URLs, that they were intimated of, would be removed. However, proxy websites with similar content could still crop up. They stated that the possible permutations and combinations were endless, and eliminating search results was not possible. However, sponsored ads could be dealt with effectively.  They also stated that dealing with every instance of infringement on an individual level would be impossible.

At this point, the Chief Justice asked the respondents to elaborate on what could be done.

The respondents stated that there was a need to understand the technology better.

The Bench then asked the petitioners if they could interact with the committee to better understand technical solutions.

Mr. Parikh, referring to an affidavit filed, stated that Google, in 2014, had displayed the ability to ‘proactively’ takedown content, without being informed by external bodies.

The respondents stated that they would look into this.

The Bench concluded by stating that the nodal agency should hold a meeting with the respondents and the petitioners within 6 weeks.

Chief Justice Dipak Misra read out the order.

Mr. Sanjay Parikh appearing for the petitioners stated that the nodal agency, despite the orders passed, had not been able to stop the offending material from being used. According to Mr. Parikh, search engines alone have the potentiality to deliberately remove offending material. Mr. Parikh has also stated that there are other ways in which offending content can be removed by the search engines.

The counsel for the respondents have stated that content can only be removed once it is pointed out, and once a specific URL is specified. There are other permutations and combinations to consider while regulating search results.

Senior Counsel Pinky Anand has stated that the nodal agency is hard at work and addresses complaints efficiently whenever it receives them.

The matter was disposed off.

 

The Supreme Court’s Free Speech To-Do List

Written by the Civil Liberties team at CCG

The Supreme Court of India is often tasked with adjudicating disputes that shape the course of free speech in India. Here’s a roundup up of some key cases currently before the Supreme Court.

Kamlesh Vaswani vs. Union of India

A PIL petition was filed in 2013 seeking a ban on pornography in India. The petition also prayed for a direction to the Union Government to “treat watching of porn videos and sharing as non-bailable and cognizable offence.”

During the course of the proceedings, the Department of Telecommunications ordered ISPs to block over 800 websites allegedly hosting pornographic content. This was despite the freedom of expression and privacy related concerns raised before the Supreme Court. The Government argued that the list of websites had been submitted to the DoT by the petitioners, who blocked the websites without any verification. The ban was revoked after much criticism.

The case, currently pending before the Supreme Court, also presented implications for the intermediary liability regime in India. Internet Service Providers may claim safe harbor from liability for content they host, as long as they satisfy certain due diligence requirements under Sec. 79 of the IT Act, read with the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011. After the Supreme Court read down these provisions in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, the primary obligation is to comply with Court orders seeking takedown of content. The petition before the Supreme Court seeks to impose an additional obligation on ISPs to identify and block all pornographic content, or risk being held liable. Our work on this case can be found here.

Sabu Mathew George vs. Union of India

This is a 2008 case, where a writ petition was filed to ban ‘advertisements’ relating to pre-natal sex determination from search engines in India. Several orders have been passed, and the state has now created a nodal agency that would provide search engines with details of websites to block. The ‘doctrine of auto-block’ is an important consideration in this case -in one of the orders the Court listed roughly 40 search terms and stated that respondents should ensure that any attempt at looking up these terms would be ‘auto-blocked’, which raises concerns about intermediary liability and free speech.

Currently, a note has been filed by the petitioners advocate, which states that search engines have the capacity to takedown such content, and even upon intimation, only end up taking down certain links and not others. Our work on this case can be found on the following links – 1, 2, 3.

Prajwala vs. Union of India

This is a 2015 case, where an NGO (named Prajwala) sent the Supreme Court a letter raising concerns about videos of sexual violence being distributed on the internet. The letter sought to bring attention to the existence of such videos, as well as their rampant circulation on online platforms.

Based on the contents of the letter, a suo moto petition was registered. Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Yahoo and Microsoft were also impleaded as parties. A committee was constituted to “assist and advise this Court on the feasibility of ensuring that videos depicting rape, gang rape and child pornography are not available for circulation” . The relevant order, which discusses the committee’s recommendations can be found here. One of the stated objectives of the committee was to examine technological solutions to the problem – for instance, auto-blocking. This raises issues related to intermediary liability and free speech.

 

CCG’s recommendations to the TRAI Consultation Paper on Privacy, Security and Ownership of Data in the Telecom Sector – Part III

In this series of blogposts, we discuss CCG’s responses and recommendations to the TRAI (available here), in response to their Consultation Paper on Privacy, Security and Ownership of the Data in the Telecom Sector. We focus on the principles and concerns that should govern the framing of any new data protection regime, whether limited to the telecom sector or otherwise. 

In our previous posts, we discussed the background against which we have provided our responses and recommendations, and the need for a separate regulatory framework for data within the telecom sector, in the context of the jurisdiction and powers of the TRAI.

In this post, we look at the basic data protection principles that we recommend form the basis for any new data protection regulation. Several of these principles are also discussed in the white paper of the Committee of Experts on a Data Protection Framework for India.

Any new data protection regulation, whether applicable across industries and sectors, or applicable only to the telecom sector, should be based on sound principles of privacy and data protection. As discussed in the Consultation Paper, the Report of the Group of Experts on Privacy[1] (GOE Report) identified 9 national privacy principles to be adopted in drafting a privacy law for India. These principles are listed below[2]:

  • Notice: A data controller, which refers to any organization that determines the purposes and means of processing the personal information of users, shall give simple to understand notice of its information practices to all individuals, in clear and concise language, before any personal information is collected from them. Such notices should include disclosures on what personal information is being collected; purpose for collection and its use; whether it will be disclosed to third parties; notification in case of data breach, etc.
  • Choice and consent: A data controller shall give individuals choices (opt-in/opt-out) with regard to providing their personal information, and take individual consent only after providing notice of its information practices.
  • Collection limitation: A data controller shall only collect personal information from data subjects as is necessary for the purposes identified for such collection.
  • Purpose limitation: Personal data collected and processed by data controllers should be adequate and relevant to the purposes for which they are processed.
  • Access and correction: Individuals shall have access to personal information about them held by a data controller and be able to seek correction, amendments, or deletion of such information, where it is inaccurate.
  • Disclosure of Information: A data controller shall only disclose personal information to third parties after providing notice and seeking informed consent from the individual for such disclosure.
  • Security: A data controller shall secure personal information using reasonable security safeguards against loss, unauthorised access or use and destruction.
  • Openness: A data controller shall take all necessary steps to implement practices, procedures, policies and systems in a manner proportional to the scale, scope, and sensitivity to the data they collect, in order to ensure compliance with the privacy principles, information regarding which shall be made in an intelligible form, using clear and plain language, available to all individuals.
  • Accountability: The data controller shall be accountable for complying with measures which give effect to the privacy principles. Such measures should include mechanisms to implement privacy policies, including training and education, audits, etc.

With the growth of businesses driven by big data, there is now a demand for re-thinking these principles, especially those relating to notice and consent[3].

While notice, consent and the other principles set forth in the GOE Report have formed the basis for data protection laws for many years now, additional principles have been developed in many jurisdictions across the world. In order to ensure that any new regulations in India are up to date and effective, it will be prudent to study such principles and identify the best practices that can then be incorporated into Indian law.

Graham Greenleaf has compared data protection laws across Europe and outside Europe and found that today, second and third generation ‘European Standards’ are being implemented across jurisdictions[4]. These ‘European Standards’, refer to standards that are applicable under European Union (EU) law, in addition to the original principles developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)[5]. The second generation European Standards that are most commonly seen outside the EU are:

  • Recourse to the courts to enforce data privacy rights (including. compensation, and appeals from decisions of DPAs)
  • Destruction or anonymisation of personal data after a period
  • Restricted data exports based on data protection provided by recipient country (‘adequate’), or alternative guarantees
  • Independent Data Protection Authority (DPA)
  • Minimum collection necessary for the purpose (not only ‘limited’)
  • General requirement of ‘fair and lawful processing’ (not only collection)
  • Additional protections for sensitive data in defined categories
  • To object to processing on compelling legitimate grounds, including to ‘opt-out’ of direct marketing uses of personal data
  • Additional restrictions on some sensitive processing systems (notification; ‘prior checking’ by DPA.)
  • Limits on automated decision-making (including right to know processing logic)

He also notes that there are several new principles put forward in the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation[6] (GDPR) itself, and that it remains to be seen which of these will become global standards outside the EU. The most popular of these principles, which he refers to as ‘3rd General European Standards’ are[7]:

  • Data breach notifications to the DPA for serious breaches
  • Data breach notifications to the data subject (if high risk)
  • Class action suits to be allowed before DPAs or courts by public interest privacy groups
  • Direct liability for processors as well as controllers
  • DPAs to make decisions and issue administrative sanctions, including fines.
  • Opt-in requirements for marketing
  • Mandatory appointment of data protection officers in companies that process sensitive personal data.

We note that there exist other proposed frameworks that aim to regulate data protection and ease compliances required by businesses. Such additional frameworks may also be considered while formulating new data protection principles and regulations in India. However, it is recommended that the ‘European Standards’ described above, i.e. those set out in the GDPR may be adopted as the base on which any new regulations are built. This would ensure that India has greater chances of being recognised as having ‘adequate’ data protection frameworks by the EU, and improve our trade relations with the EU and other countries that adopt similar standards.

Professor Greenleaf’s studies suggest that the 2nd and 3rd General European Standards are being adopted by several countries outside the European Union. We note here that adoption of principles that are considered best practices across jurisdictions would also assist in increasing interoperability for businesses that operate across borders.

While adoption of these practices is likely to raise the cost of compliance, it is also likely to ensure that India remains a very competitive market globally for the outsourcing of services. In the long term, this will benefit Indian industry and the Indian economy. It will also safeguard the privacy rights of Indian citizens in the best possible manner.

[1] Report of the Group of Experts on Privacy, available at http://planningcommission.nic.in/reports/genrep/rep_privacy.pdf

[2] Report of the Group of Experts on Privacy, Chapter 3, as summarised in the TRAI Consultation Paper on Privacy, Security and Ownership of the Data in the Telecom Sector, pages 7-9

[3] TRAI Consultation Paper on Privacy, Security and Ownership of the Data in the Telecom Sector, Page 9; and Rahul Matthan, Beyond Consent: A New Paradigm for Data Protection, available at http://takshashila.org.in/takshashila-policy-research/discussion-document-beyond-consent-new-paradigm-data-protection/ (last visited on November 5, 2017)

[4] Graham Greenleaf, European data privacy standards in laws outside Europe, Privacy Law and Business International Report, Issue 149

[5]OECD Guidelines on the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data, available at http://www.oecd.org/sti/ieconomy/oecdguidelinesontheprotectionofprivacyandtransborderflowsofpersonaldata.htm (last visited on November 5, 2017)

[6] General Data Protection Regulation, Regulation (EU) 2016/679

[7] Graham Greenleaf, Presentation on 2nd & 3rd generation data privacy standards implemented in laws outside Europe (to be published and available on request).

CCG’s recommendations to the TRAI Consultation Paper on Privacy, Security and Ownership of Data in the Telecom Sector – Part II

In this series of blogposts, we discuss CCG’s responses and recommendations to the TRAI (available here), in response to their Consultation Paper on Privacy, Security and Ownership of the Data in the Telecom Sector. We focus on the principles and concerns that should govern the framing of any new data protection regime, whether limited to the telecom sector or otherwise.

In our previous blogpost, the first of the series, we discussed the background against which we have provided our responses and recommendations. In this post, we look at whether there is a need for a separate regulatory framework for data within the telecom sector, and the jurisdiction and powers of the TRAI.

We note that the Consultation Paper makes several references to stakeholders / players in the digital / telecommunications eco-system that are not traditional telecommunication service providers. These include online content / application service providers, device manufacturers, and providers of online communication services, operating systems, browsers. The Consultation Paper poses several questions about the regulation of data use and processing by such stakeholders.

In this context, we have examined the role and responsibilities of the TRAI beyond the regulation of traditional telecommunication service providers.

The preamble to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997 (TRAI Act) states that the law is meant to “provide for the establishment of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal to regulate the telecommunication services, adjudicate disputes, dispose of appeals and to protect the interests of service providers and consumers of the telecom sector, to promote and ensure orderly growth of the telecom sector and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.

Telecommunication services have been defined to mean “service of any description (including electronic mail, voice mail, data services, audio tax services, video tax services, radio paging and cellular mobile telephone services) which is made available to users by means of any transmission or reception of signs, signals, writing, images and sounds or intelligence of any nature, by wire, radio, visual or other electromagnetic means”[1]. Broadcasting services have been excluded from the definition of telecommunication services[2].

Service providers means either the government as a service provider, or a licensee[3] – which refers to any person licensed to provide telecommunication services under the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885[4].

Section 11 of the TRAI Act describes the functions of the TRAI. These functions are divided into two broad areas: (i) making recommendations of certain matters, and (ii) regulatory functions. The regulatory functions largely deal with monitoring compliance with the telecom licenses, and other functions of service providers.

The TRAI’s powers to make recommendations extend to the following matters:

  • need and timing for introduction of new service provider;
  • terms and conditions of licence to a service provider;
  • revocation of licence for non-compliance of terms and conditions of licence;
  • measures to facilitate competition and promote efficiency in the operation of telecommunication services so as to facilitate growth in such services;
  • technological improvements in the services provided by the service providers;
  • type of equipment to be used by the service providers after inspection of equipment used in the network;
  • measures for the development of telecommunication technology and any other matter relatable to telecommunication industry in general;
  • efficient management of available spectrum

We note that most of the above matters deal specifically with functions of service providers. However, as mentioned above, telecommunication services do include some services beyond those provided by traditional telecommunication service providers – such as electronic mail and voice mail among others.

In this context, we would argue that the functions and powers of the TRAI would not extend to making recommendations regarding, or regulating online content and application providers, device manufacturers or other businesses that do not provide communication services.

At best, the TRAI may derive powers to make recommendations regarding based on questions posed in the Consultation Paper, under sub-section (iv) which provides the TRAI with the authority to make recommendations on improving efficiency of telecommunication services.

In our next posts in this series, we will discuss principles that we believe any data protection regulation, irrespective of the sector it applies to, should address. We also note that as Indian businesses grow and adopt new technology, they are increasingly beginning to function across sectors. In this context, we recommend that a basic data protection law that is applicable horizontally across sectors and regions, to cope with these cross-sectoral business models.  Where required, additional regulations may be made applicable to collection and processing of sector specific sensitive personal data.

[1] Section 2(1)(k) of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997

[2] Section 2(1)(k) of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997

[3] Section 2(1)(j) of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997

[4] Section 2(1)(e) of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997

CCG’s recommendations to the TRAI Consultation Paper on Privacy, Security and Ownership of Data in the Telecom Sector – Part I

TRAI published a Consultation Paper on Privacy, Security and Ownership of the Data in the Telecom Sector (Consultation Paper) on August 9, 2017.

Since then, the Supreme Court of India has affirmed that the right to privacy is a fundamental right under the Indian Constitution, in a detailed judgment in Puttaswamy v. Union of India[1]. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY), Government of India has also set up a Committee of Experts (COE) to identify key data protection issues in India and recommend methods of addressing them[2]. The COE was also expected to suggest a draft data protection bill.

The COE has now drafted a white paper to solicit public comments on the shape that India’s data protection law must take.

With so many discussions on the state of the right to privacy and data protection laws in India, it is clear that there is an immediate need for better laws and regulations on privacy and data protection in India, in the telecom sector as well as other sectors.

The Centre for Communication Governance (CCG) responded with comments to the TRAI Consultation Paper earlier this month (see our full response here or here).

In this series of blogposts, we discuss CCG’s responses and recommendations to the TRAI, in response to their Consultation Paper on Privacy, Security and Ownership of the Data in the Telecom Sector. We focus on the principles and concerns that should govern the framing of any new data protection regime, whether limited to the telecom sector or otherwise. We also highlight those sections of our responses and recommendations that relate to issues and questions discussed in the COE’s white paper.

In today’s post, the first of the series, we highlight the background against which we have provided our responses and recommendations.

1.     Privacy as a Fundamental Right

The Supreme Court in Puttaswamy v. Union of India[3] has affirmed and recognised that the right to privacy is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. It may also be drawn as a fundamental right under any of the other fundamental rights recognised under the Constitution. Accordingly, the Court has observed that although the right is not absolute, any restrictions imposed by the State on the right to privacy must be ‘reasonable restrictions’. These reasonable restrictions must meet the various tests for limitations / violations of the right, applicable in relation to the relevant fundamental rights. At the same time, the Court has also noted that there is a positive obligation for the state to create a regulatory environment that allows individuals to enjoy their right to privacy.

In recognising privacy as a fundamental right, J. Chandrachud, J. Chelameswar, J. Kaul and J. Nariman have, in their various opinions have observed that informational privacy is an important aspect of such privacy in this day and age. J. Chandrachud has noted the setting up of the Committee of Experts, and recommended that the central government puts in place a robust data protection regulation in place in order to protect this right.

In the observations that lead up to his conclusions, J. Chandrachud has also noted that data protection regulation is a complex issue which needs to address many aims[4]. The first of these aims is the individual’s right to be left alone. Second and more importantly, the regulation needs to ensure that the individual’s identity is protected. Third, the individual’s autonomy in making decisions about the use of data about them, and their right to know how this data is being used must be protected. Fourth, data protection regulation should ensure that data is not collected in a manner that is discriminatory towards anyone.

2.     Current data protection laws

Our assessment is that the current data protection rules are insufficient to protect the interests of data subjects, including telecom subscribers.

The Consultation Paper has at various points referred to the report of the Group of Experts, headed by (Retd.) Justice A. P. Shah, in 2012 (GOE Report)[5]. We note that this GOE report found the various data protection rules that are currently applicable, inadequate[6]. The GOE Report has examined best practices and principles of data protection laws across the world, and recommended the incorporation of a set of 9 national privacy principles in any proposed privacy law[7]. The GOE Report has then gone on to find that the existing data protection regulations do not meet the requirements set forth in these principles[8].

The existing data protection laws, including particularly the provisions under the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act) and the Information Technology (Reasonable security practices and procedures and sensitive personal data or information) Rules, 2011 under the IT Act (IT Rules) have also been criticised by industry and civil society members alike[9]. The IT Rules are ambiguous and do not properly define the roles and responsibilities of data controllers and processors[10]. There is no clarity on the nature of the data that the rules are applicable to. Further, the provisions under the IT Act do not provide for penalties or consequences for failure to comply with the IT Rules, and provide only a compensation mechanism that is difficult to enforce[11].

We are in agreement with the part of Consultation Paper which points out that some of the principles set out in the GOE Report may need to be reformulated in today’s age of big data[12]. However, we note that the data protection regulations fall short even of the outdated standards set forth in the principles listed by the GOE Report. More work will be necessary to define new standards and develop strategies to ensure that data protection framework meets these standards.

[1] Writ petition (civil) no 494 of 2012, (2017)6MLJ267

[2] Office Memorandum No. 3(6)j2017-CLES, available at  http://meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/MeitY_constitution_Expert_Committee_31.07.2017.pdf (last visited on November 5, 2017)

[3] Writ petition (civil) no 494 of 2012, (2017)6MLJ267

[4] Paragraphs 177 and 178, J. Chandrachud’s opinion, Puttaswamy v. Union of India (2017)6MLJ267

[5] Report of the Group of Experts on Privacy, available at http://planningcommission.nic.in/reports/genrep/rep_privacy.pdf (last visited on November 5, 2017)

[6] Report of the Group of Experts on Privacy, Chapter 4

[7] Report of the Group of Experts on Privacy, Chapter 3

[8] Report of the Group of Experts on Privacy, Chapter 4

[9] Outsourcing: India adopts new privacy and security rules for personal information, available at https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=9a9b9ec0-e390-45b8-a6f1-4363e29e9af3 (last visited on November 5, 2017); and Bhairav Acharya, Comments on the Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011, available at https://cis-india.org/internet-governance/blog/comments-on-the-it-reasonable-security-practices-and-procedures-and-sensitive-personal-data-or-information-rules-2011 (last visited on November 5, 2017)

[10] Smitha Krishna Prasad, Draft white paper on the IT Act and the data protection rules, (to be published, and available on request)

[11] Smitha Krishna Prasad, Draft white paper on the IT Act and the data protection rules, (to be published, and available on request)

[12] TRAI Consultation Paper on Privacy, Security and Ownership of the Data in the Telecom Sector, Page 9

Update on Aadhaar hearing

In October 2015, a 3-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India referred challenges to the Aadhaar program to a constitution bench. One of the primary concerns of this petition was to decide on the existence of a fundamental right to privacy, which has since been upheld. Other similar petitions, concerned with the legitimacy of Aadhaar had been tagged with this petition. While the existence of a fundamental right has been upheld, challenges against the Aadhaar programme are yet to be adjudicated upon.

On the 30th of October, the Chief Justice stated that a Constitution Bench would be constituted and the Aadhaar linking matter would be heard in the last week of November, 2017. More on this can be found in our post here.

Today, the matter was mentioned again.

The Attorney General stated that the hearing should be scheduled for the end of January or the beginning of February, since it would take 6 weeks to conclude. He also made reference to a white paper on data protection the Srikrishna Committee was about to release, and stated that the hearing should commence after these recommendations were considered.

At this point, Mr. Shyam Diwan stated that interim relief in the form of an order should be granted, if the matter could not be heard before the 31st of December. Mr. Diwan reiterated that interim relief was promised if the matter went on beyond the 31st of December.

The Attorney General mentioned that since the matter was of national importance, it would be best for it to be heard before the constitutional bench.

The Chief Justice stated that interim relief would have to be passed by the constitutional bench as well.

Presently, it is unclear whether the matter will be heard next week and dates for hearings in January and February have also not been mentioned.