Research

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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

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  • 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

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  • 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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  • I took Allah’s name and stepped out”: Bodies, data and embodied experiences of surveillance and control during COVID-19 in India

    This paper presents a study of COVID-19 in India to illustrate how surveillance is increasing control over bodies of individuals, and how the dominant framework of data as a resource is facilitating this control. Disembodied constructions of data erase connections between data and people’s bodies and make surveillance seem innocuous. As a departure from such a framework, this study adopts a feminist bodies-as-data approach to pinpoint the specific, embodied harms of surveillance. Starting from lived experiences of marginalised communities whose voices are often left out in debates on data protection, it shows that surveillance undermines not just data privacy, but more importantly, the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of individuals. This paper was first published by the Data Governance Network.   More

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  • The Making of Political Ads: Classification as Distraction

    Internet based advertising has changed both the Internet and advertising. Efforts to understand the impacts of advertising business models rely on a distinction between ads that might be considered political and the rest. Such a classification empowers platforms to hide from scrutiny a whole lot of ads that are a basic part of an intrinsically political corpus of public discourse. Therefore, enhanced transparency for political ads, rather than shining a light, functions as a cover, obfuscating the impact of targeted and optimised ad infrastructures. In this essay, we use data collected at the Persuasion Lab (ad.watch) to problematise this central classification, and argue that the very nature of targeted ads is inherently political.   More

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  • Data sovereignty, of whom? Limits and suitability of sovereignty frameworks for data in India

    Sovereignty is seeing renewed relevance in the age of data in India as it has become the framework of choice in a number of data governance proposals by the Indian government. To understand the scope, import and consequences of these reassertions of sovereignty, however, it is important to unpack the nature of these claims as they have been put forward. In particular, to what extent does this type of sovereignty allow for the exercise of autonomy and choice of the Indian people? This paper will demonstrate that such assessments crucially depend on how we construct the nature of data. In most dominant discourses, data is described as a resource of some sort. However, in practice the line between our physical bodies and our virtual bodies is increasingly becoming irrelevant: data, then, emerges not so much as a resource that is simply out there, but as an extension of our bodies. In order to benefit the people of India, assertions of sovereignty in the face of data colonialism will need to take these shifting realities regarding the nature of data into account. Through an assessment of policy proposals relating to sovereignty in the realm of data and new technologies, we seek to examine to what extent policy in India does indeed recognise these new realities, and what the value of these new assertions of sovereignty for the people of India consequently is.   More

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  • Solving for data justice: A response to the draft Personal Data Protection Bill

    Instead of understanding data’ as a resource to be tapped, what if we employ other metaphors around data? How does that change our reading of the draft Personal Data Protection Bill? Data as bodies, data as labour, data as exhaust, data as distraction – so much turns on which metaphor we choose to give precedence to! Taking this as a starting point, a group of activists and researchers got together to understand what the draft Personal Data Protection Bill means for social movements and issues they might be embedded in, and in turn, how different movements can contribute their wisdom to strengthen the bill. This was jointly drafted by participants following two workshops organised in Bangalore and Delhi by the Internet Democracy Project in September 2018.   More

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  • Unshackling expression: A study on laws criminalising expression online in Asia

    The research on India has been co-authored by Dr. Anja Kovacs and Nayantara R. Freedom of expression and opinion online is increasingly criminalised with the aid of penal and internet-specific legislation. This special issue of the Association of Progressive Communication’s Global Information Society Watch brings to light the problematic trends in the use of laws against freedom of expression in online spaces in Asia. The India chapter of the report has been authored by the Internet Democracy Project. Find the full report here. Our chapter on India has also been excerpted below.   More

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  • Dialing for data protection: Our comments to TRAI Consultation Paper on Privacy, Security and Ownership of User Data in the Telecom Sector

    The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) invited comments for consultation paper no. 09/2017 on Privacy, Security and Ownership of User Data in the Telecom Sector. The Internet Democracy Project submitted comments to TRAI, asking the regulator to centre users’ rights over their data as part of the fundamental right to privacy, while balancing these rights with innovation in uses of data and also innovation in regulation. We also submitted that TRAI should not go as far as to recommend data protection requirements for all players in the ecosystem’, as this goes beyond the TRAI’s mandate.   More

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