Data-driven technologies have become increasingly central to our lives, especially in a post-pandemic world where the need for social distance has accelerated digital interfaces in many domains. These technologies often record and store the most intimate details of our lives including our communications with others, details of close relationships, personal preferences and even real-time vital health indicators. While there is growing awareness of the impacts of such large-scale recording and processing of personal information, and the need for certain “ground rules” regarding how, when and whether such information can be accessed, recorded, shared or stored, much remains to be done in the way of grounding a lot of these principles within the legal and regulatory framework. As a necessary corollary, legal and policy education must also impart an understanding of such new frameworks and equip professionals to grapple with them.
Data Protection Laws often provide these ground rules, and as India is on the verge of adopting its first omnibus data protection statute, students at the Technology Law and Policy pathway at the Daksha Fellowship studied the first dedicated course on the subject. Helmed by reputed data protection researcher, Malavika Raghavan, the course is designed to introduce Daksha fellows to a relatively new substantive topic in Indian legal education, and fast-track their understanding of key debates in data protection law globally and in India.
The Data Protection course is designed to help students develop a broad understanding of the conceptualisation of privacy and the role of Data Protection law. This is done through a series of innovative in-class discussions, response papers and readings of prominent experts in the field of Data Protection, across the globe such as Dan Solove, Ryan Calo, Graham Greenleaf and Lee Bygrave.
The introductory classes set the frame for the course, engaging students in the foundational “why” questions and teasing out the tensions underlying data protection laws. Fellows, thereafter, also learn to appreciate the historical evolution and broad contours of data protection laws generally, and India’s proposed data protection framework specifically. This is achieved not only through discussions with global experts (the inaugural cohort saw the participation of David Medine, Gabriela Zanfir-Fortuna, and Bruno Bioni discussing the data protection regimes and legislative journeys of the US, EU and Brazil respectively), but also by analysing India’s existing regulatory approach in contrast to India’s proposed framework to critically identify the interests, objectives and values that drive various aspects of regulation.
This enables Daksha Fellows to be aware of key unresolved and open questions being debated regarding the scope and boundaries of India’s proposed data protection regime, and thus opens up the forum to discuss the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 more closely. Under the course faculty’s supervision, students undertake a comprehensive survey of its provisions, focussing in particular on some of its key substantive areas (Scope & Definitions, Exemptions, Rights and Obligations). The students understand the legislative history of the bill, the regulatory architecture it proposes, along with some contemporary special issues, a few of which include children’s privacy, non-personal data, social media intermediaries and elections, and cross-border data flows.
The culmination of the course is with students in groups crafting their own ideal Data Protection Bill, keeping in mind the context of the technologies around them, as well the eternal politics-policy tussle.
Designing dynamic courses is already a demanding challenge, but designing a Data Protection course in the middle of the pandemic, as the contours of the PDP Bill were evolving in the Indian landscape would only have been possible through a fellowship model such as Daksha, where the pedagogic design is consciously kept fluid and responsive. Some of the current Daksha fellows had this to say about the course –
“Even if I engage in nitpicking a flaw, I won’t be able to. The concepts were easy to grasp, with lively content and the way of teaching and obviously, we must thank the faculty here. It was a high level of discussion revolving around literature, concepts, legislation and much more. From a pre-cursor to basic and then to a slightly advanced level of engagement and understanding, the flow throughout the course was perfect. My interest in the subject has just grown and I couldn’t have asked for more. So yes, easily my favourite subject and my favourite faculty.”
“It was an absolute honour to have been taught by Prof. Malavika. Not only was the course engaging and extremely well structured, but it was also well taught. I thoroughly enjoyed each and every session, the guest lectures and the assignments. I also have to commend the manner in which Prof. Malavika conducted the flow of the discussions in the class, roping us back in if the discussion went slightly off track. This was particularly brilliant because it taught me how to ensure that a discussion does not sway too far from the subject matter.”
“Engagement with the practitioners and experts from foreign jurisdictions as well as the presentation discussing an ideal draft legislation on data protection and the papers to write on topics cleared the first principles and their applicability, so yes very enriching indeed.”
Sayyantana Dutta, Assistant Manager, Academic Affairs @ Sai University & Daksha Fellowship, has authored this post. Admissions are open for the next academic year (2021-22).