Talking Data to the Fourth Pillar: A collaborative effort at democratizing the data protection discourse in India.
In 2017, a landmark Supreme Court judgment pronounced privacy as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Indian constitution. It also recommended the Government to put in place a data protection regime that would balance individual interest and legitimate concerns of the state such as protecting national security, encouraging innovation, and distribution of social welfare benefits. This, along with the passing of General Data Protection Regulation, paved the way for Data Protection Bill 2018 and its revised versions of 2019 and 2021. However, the 2021 bill has been critiqued for the disproportionate exemptions it made to the Government agencies, and is yet to be ratified by the Parliament. As such, a regulatory vacuum exists in India despite multiple data breaches, with an increased collection of data by the Government agencies and advancements in technology that enable more granular data collection. It is in this context that the Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF India) seeded the idea of organising a capacity-building and knowledge exchange program titled, “Talking data to the fourth pillar: A collaborative effort at democratizing the data protection discourse in India”. The programme will be implemented through a 5-day in-person residential workshop to be held in Asia Plateau, Panchgani, Maharashtra . Applicants who are employed/associated with digital media organisations (either full time or part-time), citizen journalists (bloggers, YouTubers, etc.) and freelance/independent journalists are eligible to apply.
The programme is conceptualized with the aim of developing an understanding of the concepts of privacy, data protection and online safety, to facilitate and enable the participants to make informed choices while pursuing journalism. It also aims to build the capacities of journalists in understanding data protection legislations to pursue journalism in a safe and secure manner. Additionally, as journalists along with the human right defenders are one of the targeted categories of violation of information and communication privacy, this training would enable them to better defend themselves. To achieve the same, a thorough curriculum has been developed to train and create awareness in the following areas:
• Understanding data privacy and protection from an intersectional feminist perspective
• International and domestic legal landscape on data and privacy
• Online security and safety
• Challenges and opportunities in working towards online privacy and safety
Due to the increased digitization across sectors, safeguarding privacy has become a challenge. The public at large is vulnerable to data extractive practices by private business, and social media that leads to targeted advertising intended at vulnerable communities, including that of consumer products and political propaganda. Data breaches also put vulnerable communities such as religious, gender and sexual minorities, and oppressed caste members at risk by loss of anonymity. The citizenry is also vulnerable due to the digital linkage of personally identifiable information and welfare delivery. For example, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has suffered multiple data breaches over years most of which, the Government has refused to acknowledge. Disturbingly, authoritarian Governments have used these opportunities to tighten surveillance over citizenry and pave the way for the digital economy, thereby harming the right to privacy and freedom of expression. Human right defenders and journalists have especially been at the receiving end of such malpractices in India. All of these illustrate the need for data protection legislation that protects the interests of the democratic state. It is in this context that the workshop is conceptualized to meet the pertinent need for building a critical discourse around questions of data privacy, data protection and online safety, especially from an intersectional feminist perspective. In line with DEF’s several efforts in the past to ideate, build and disseminate critical knowledge on data rights for marginalized communities, online safety and security, the programme will work towards building consensus towards a more democratic data protection regime that uphold human rights and personal dignity of the Indian journalists.