Working towards realising feminist visions of the digital in society by exploring & addressing power imbalances in the areas of norms, governance & infrastructure.

New research

Cover Health Data as Wealth

Health data as wealth

Over the past few years, there has been a drive towards the digitisation of healthcare in India, with policy frameworks incentivising further datafication by considering health data to be a commodity. In the context of big data, Radhika Radhakrishnan argues in this paper that when health data is viewed as a disembodied resource, access to people’s health data becomes a form of power, giving those with such access the unparalleled and unprecedented power to influence the governance of people’s bodies and lives.

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  • Virus detected: A profile of India’s emergent ecosystem of networked technologies to tackle Covid-19

    AWO cover page

    How useful have apps, drones, online portals, and the National Migrant Information System been to tackle Covid-19 from a public health perspective? To what extent have they impacted social control? And how have marginalised people been affected in particular? This research study maps the deployment of these technologies and the evidence available so far of their usefulness to tackle the crisis. The study was conducted as part of the Covid App project. The Covid App project is a civil society initiative that stemmed from a research interest in Covid-specific interventions – especially contact tracing apps – in countries outside Europe and North America. This shared research focus drew together six civil society organisations: ALT Advisory (South Africa), Internet Democracy Project (India), InternetLAB (Brazil), Karisma (Colombia), SMEX (Lebanon), and United for Iran. AWO, a data rights agency, provided coordination support. Over a 7‑month period, the group reviewed contact tracing apps and assessed their interaction with public health, human rights, privacy, and data protection in the six countries of focus. We conducted interviews, filed freedom of information requests, and extensively reviewed public documentation to produce in-depth country reports. Contact tracing apps cannot be evaluated in a vacuum: the research considers alternative measures, technological and others, that were deployed in response to the pandemic, and often interacted with the design and deployment of contact tracing apps themselves. Today, we publish the in-depth country reports – each accompanied by a set of recommendations – alongside an expert technical review of seven contact tracing apps from our countries of focus. We hope our contribution will support the critical evaluation of contact tracing apps and other pandemic measures. In addition, we hope to foster a discussion of safeguards – including recourse and oversight – that will better protect marginalised and vulnerable groups during public health crises, bolster human rights, democracy, and rule of law, and strengthen future pandemic response.   More

    Research Data

  • What’s sex got to do with it? Mapping the impact of questions of gender and sexuality on the evolution of the digital rights landscape in India

    Taking as its starting point key High Court and Supreme Court cases in particular, this report seeks to map the many ways in which jurisprudence at the intersection of gender, sexuality, and digital rights has reduced, and at times expanded, digital rights in India. As our analysis will show, all too often, when it comes to digital rights too, anxieties surrounding women’s sexuality continue to justify court cases and jurisprudence that are geared towards protecting middle class morality and a very narrow vision of Indian culture”, rather than gender and sexuality rights. Whether women are objects or subjects of state control, the negative effect on our digital rights is considerable. This is particularly true where the right to freedom of expression is concerned, but even the lopsided ways in which the right to anonymity and to be forgotten are evolving in Indian jurisprudence is deeply reflective of this dynamic. However, another way is possible. When courts put gender and sexuality rights front and centre, this report will show, possibilities to meaningfully exercise our rights immediately expand.   More

    Research Gender, free speech, censorship

  • Cover Informed Consent Says Who

    While consent continues to be a crucial element of data protection regimes around the world, it has also been diagnosed with numerous weaknesses as a tool to promote and protect individuals’ autonomy. In this paper, we set out to learn from feminist theory around consent in general and feminist applied thinking around sexual consent in particular how consent regimes in data protection can be strengthened. We argue that such a journey will be promising because of the close entanglements between our bodies and our data. We particularly foreground feminist criticisms of the concept of property in the person” to understand in more detail the profound harms that current data practices do to our personhood, as well as the ways in which consent is currently deployed to enable and even legitimise such practices, rather than challenge or reject them. Through close engagement with feminist thinking around consent, we then develop a list of feminist principles that will need to be followed if consent is to ever be meaningful in data governance. Finally, we outline three areas of change that the application of these principles immediately points to: changes related to the collection of data; changes related to the uses of data; and changes required to protect people who are especially vulnerable in particular. Making these shifts, we argue, is essential if we are to put into place a data infrastructure that is actually empowering for, rather than exploitative of people. This paper was first published by the Data Governance Network.   More

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Latest policy work

Cover Policy Brief Safeguarding Patient Rights

Safeguarding patient rights within a digital ecosystem

In the age of big data, access to people’s health data gives those with such access unprecedented power to influence the governance of people’s bodies and lives. How can we safeguard patient rights in this context? Using a feminist framework, this policy brief by Radhika Radhakrishan provides 15 recommendations.

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  • Consent continues to be a crucial element of data protection regimes around the world. However, as a tool to promote and protect individuals’ autonomy, it has been diagnosed with numerable weaknesses. While there have been suggestions that it is therefore time to move away from consent altogether, we propose a different approach. Data protection regimes first need to reconceptualise the nature of data, by recognising the need to centre bodies in debates on data governance. Once the entanglement between bodies and data has been acknowledged, data governance regimes can, then, adopt feminist principles of consent that build on insights developed in numerous offline contexts and which allow us to imagine data relations that enable people to actually move closer to the ideal of meaningful consent. This policy brief was first published by the Data Governance Network.   More

    Policy Brief Data

  • Protecting bodies and rights in disease surveillance during COVID-19 in India — A policy brief

    Surveillance is increasing control over bodies of individuals, and the framework of data as a resource is facilitating this control, as illustrated here through the case of COVID-19 in India. Data governance frameworks view data as a disembodied resource, erasing its connections with people’s bodies and making surveillance seem innocuous. A feminist bodies-as-data approach enables embodied harms of surveillance to be pinpointed, and recommendations to be made to alleviate them. Drawing upon research of lived experiences of marginalised communities whose voices are often left out in data protection discourse, this policy brief proposes recommendations preserving not just data privacy, but bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of individuals.   More

    This policy brief was first published by the Data Governance Network.

    Policy Brief Data

  • Data sovereignty, of whom? Limits and suitability of sovereignty frameworks for data in India — A policy brief

    The concept of sovereignty has come to frame a number of data governance proposals by the Indian government. To understand the scope, import and consequences of these reassertions of sovereignty, it is, however, important to unpack the nature of the claims that have been put forward. In particular, to what extent do these promote the exercise of autonomy and choice by the Indian people? In order to benefit the people of India, assertions of sovereignty in the face of data colonialism will need to take into account that data is not merely a resource out there”, but increasingly functions as an extension of our bodies. As this analysis will show, current conceptualisations of data sovereignty fail to do so; for now, they therefore merely entail a transfer of power to domestic elites while doing little to return sovereignty to the people of India. This policy brief was first published by the Data Governance Network.   More

    Policy Brief


Special focus

Recent events

  • Participated in


    This conference is organised by MediaNama. Dr. Anja Kovacs is a speaker on the panel on bodies and data protection. The panel will discuss concerns around data collection related to bodies, the deployment of facial recognition systems, and how data protection laws need to address these concerns.

    06 Oct 2021

  • Participated in

    Understanding Body Politics in the Context of Big Data and Information Society

    This event is the 35th Gender and Economic Policy Discussion Forum, organised by the Institute of Social Studies Trust in collaboration with the Heinrich Böll Stiftung. It is dedicated to understanding body politics through an intersectional feminist perspective focused on embodiment, as gadgets, technologies and media are increasingly becoming part of our bodies and policy and governance are more and more informed by ‘big data'. Dr. Anja Kovacs is a speaker.

    31 Aug 2021

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