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The ‘Panoptification’ of India: the Battle for Digital Free Will

January 17, 2013
12:00PM - 01:30PM

Annenberg School for Communication, Room 300
3620 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

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Categories: Seminar

The Center For Global Communication Studies in collaboration with CASI (the Center for the Advanced Study of India) presnt a noontime seminar with Malavika Jayaram:

As Internet penetration has increased in India, the capacity for citizens to exercise freedom of speech has grown massively. At the same time, there has been growing pressure from government and legislators to introduce greater surveillance of those exercising these new freedoms. This talk will look at the relationship between these two phenomena – examining the intersection between threats to speech and privacy – and at the challenges to the notion of digital free will.

One battleground is the Internet, which authorities frequently perceive as a threat (despite the otherwise strong commitment to democracy and constitutionally protected free speech). The other is a growing set of e-governance schemes that use biometric data or otherwise link previously separate databases, creating a massive intelligence network. In the absence of strong data protection and privacy laws, the desire to make citizens visible to the state (often with good intentions, in the name of welfare) poses several challenges.

India has seen a growing number of high profile cases recently where citizens have been arrested for comments made on Facebook. The Indian authorities have very publicly demanded data and surveillance capabilities from technology providers, many of which are based outside India (the 4-year stand-off that Research in Motion had with the Indian authorities culminated in RIM handing over encryption keys and infrastructure). There have been well-documented instances of demands by the Indian authorities for the censorship of Internet content over several years and these appear to be increasing in frequency and breadth.  They are also now impacting on major platform providers who are being taken to court for failure to take down “inflammatory images”. A particularly tense battleground is the newly enacted rules under key legislation, which requires objectionable content (defined very broadly) to be taken down within 36 hours.

Foucault asserts that the “major effect of [Jeremy Bentham’s] Panopticon” is “to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power”. Using the lens of e-governance schemes such as the biometric ID project, and recent violations of online free speech (including citizen arrests, platform surveillance and censorship), the talk will examine the challenges to being private and free in India, and consider whether Bentham’s panoptic structure might be fully realized.

A dual-qualified lawyer, Malavika spent eight years in London – with global law firm
Allen & Overy in the Communications, Media & Technology group, and then with
Citigroup. She relocated to India in 2006, and wears 3 hats as a practising lawyer, a
Fellow at the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) and a PhD scholar. As a partner
at Jayaram & Jayaram, Bangalore, she focuses on corporate/tech transactions and
has a special interest in new media and the arts. At CIS, Malavika collaborates on
projects that study legislative and policy changes in the internet governance and
privacy domains. As a PhD scholar, she is looking at data protection and privacy
in India, with a special focus on e-governance schemes and the new biometric ID

A graduate of the National Law School of India, she has an LL.M. from Northwestern
University, Chicago. She is on the advisory board of the Indian Journal of Law &
Technology and is the author of the India chapter for the Data Protection & Privacy
volume in the Getting the Deal Through series, launched this year. She is one of
10 Indian lawyers featured in “The International Who’s Who of Internet e-
Commerce & Data Protection Lawyers 2012” directory.

She is currently running a research project for Internews, studying internet policy
in India. This will produce a landscape overview and interviews with various
stakeholders in this domain.