Defender of your Digital Freedom

All Posts | Dec 23,2017

SFLC.in at Internet Governance Forum 2017

The twelfth annual meeting of Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was held in Geneva, Switzerland at the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG) from 18 to 21 December, 2017. The theme for the meeting this year was ‘Shape Your Digital Future!’

IGF is a global multi-stakeholder platform to facilitate inclusive, productive discussions on Internet related public policy issues from a general perspective. The purpose of IGF is to maximize the opportunity for open and inclusive dialogue and the exchange of ideas on Internet governance related issues; create opportunities to share best practices and experiences; identify emerging issues and bring them to the attention of the relevant bodies and the general public; contribute to capacity building for Internet governance.

SFLC.in was represented by Mishi Choudhary, President and Founding Director at the annual forum. She participated as a speaker at the following sessions:

  • WS 129: Making artificial intelligence (AI) work for equity and social justice (20th December, 15:00-16:30):
    This session was organised by Just Net Coalition in collaboration with Social Watch. This workshop discussed various pertinent issues such as what humans can expect from AI systems and how to control them, the ethical and regulatory commands that can be inculcated into upcoming technology, amongst others.
    The official transcript of the session can be accessed here.
  • WS 8: Open Source: Defending Freedoms in the Digital Future (20th December, 11:50-13:20):
    This session was co-organised by ISOC-TRV and FOSS Foundation for Africa. The session had detailed discussions in three breakout groups on following topics: (1) tools and technologies provided by FOSS; (2) methodologies, processes and best practices in dealing with the processes of content generation, validation and distribution; and (3) policy initiatives. The session comprised of following speakers:  Mishi Choudhary, Glenn Mcknight, Sarah Kiden, Olivier Crepin-Leblond, Panayotis Antoniadis, Oktavia Hrund and Nicolás Echániz.
    The official transcript of this session is available here.
  • WS 154: The Distributed Denial of Democracy: Threats to Democratic Processes Online (21st December, 10:40 - 11:40)
    Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) in collaboration with National Democratic Institute (NDI) organised this session.  This panel highlighted a number of threats to online democracy and effective solutions for addressing those threats. The panelists for this session included Hanane Boujemi, Martha Roldos, Chris Doten, Jehan Ara, Mishi Choudhary and Matt Chessen.
    The official transcript of this session is available here.

All Posts | Oct 25,2017

“Privacy Bytes” launched by SFLC.in as a one-stop destination for resources on online privacy in India

New Delhi, October 24, 2017: Delhi-based not-for-profit legal services organization SFLC.in today launched “Privacy Bytes”, a new website to provide policy makers, academics, media persons and the public at large with resources on online privacy-related issues, matters and cases in India. Accessible at privacy.sflc.in; the website has compiled notes on the Right to Privacy; FAQs and information about the existing legal situation regarding privacy in India as well as information about the efforts underway to shape the future of privacy in India. SFLC.in also launched a twitter presence @privacybytes that will provide the latest updates and resources on privacy. The website will also feature extensive resources on privacy laws around the world, Indian and international reports on privacy and judicial pronouncements on citizens’ right to privacy.

Mishi Choudhary, President at SFLC.in said, “Guaranteeing the citizens’ right to privacy is a fundamental step towards realizing the vision of a digitally empowered society in India. As the contours of privacy and data protection laws for Indian citizens are being drawn up, we believe this is the right time to produce a comprehensive repository on all matters related to privacy to spread awareness as well as support an informed analysis and discussion among all stakeholders involved.”

The right to privacy has been a matter of public debate in India in the recent months. In August 2017, a nine-judge bench of India’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Right to Privacy is an integral part of Right to Life and Personal Liberty guaranteed in Article 21 of the Constitution of India. It added that the right to privacy is intrinsic to the entire fundamental rights chapter of the Constitution. Earlier in July, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) constituted a Committee of Experts to study and identify key data protection issues and suggest a draft Data Protection Bill.

SFLC.in also said that it will soon publish simple infographics that will explain how to protect and safeguard privacy in the age of smartphones; and will continually add new resources and content on the issue on ‘Privacy Bytes’ website.

About SFLC.in:
SFLC.IN is a donor supported legal services organisation that brings together lawyers, policy analysts, technologists, and students to protect freedom in the digital world. SFLC.IN promotes innovation and open access to knowledge by helping developers make great Free and Open Source Software, protect privacy and civil liberties for citizens in the digital world by educating and providing free legal advice and help policy makers make informed and just decisions with the use and adoption of technology. You can support their work by making tax-deductible donations and providing feedback.

All Posts | Aug 24,2017

[Press Release] Supreme Court holds that Right to Privacy is a Fundamental Right

In a historic judgment, the 9 judge bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court has unanimously held that Right to Privacy is a fundamental right. This judgment was pronounced in a reference made to the 9 judge bench in a batch of Writ Petitions challenging the Aadhaar scheme. Dr. Nagarjuna G., member of the Governing body of SFLC.in and Mr.Vickram Crishna, member of the Advisory Board were petitioners in T.C. (Civil) No. 152 of 2013 that was referred to the Constitutional bench.

Mishi Choudhary, President, SFLC.in said:
“This is a milestone in a large history across the world on understanding of the right to privacy. The largest democracy in the world has now spoken on the question which we all face because 20th century constitutions, let alone earlier constitutions did not tend to speak of right to privacy and they certainly didn’t speak of it in terms which allowed its application to the needs of human beings in the 21st century networked society. Supreme Court of India has taken an enormous step which is going to be looked upon by societies of law around the world with enormous importance.”

It was incomprehensible that the existence of this right could be disputed in this day and age, specially considering the Government’s adoption of increasingly data-centric governance models. To transform India into a “digitally empowered society and a knowledge economy” as the Digital India initiative envisions, it is necessary to respect the individual’s right to privacy at all levels of governance, starting with the Constitution itself. The historic 9-judge Constitution Bench of the SC has done extremely well to recognize this fact, demonstrating yet again that the judiciary places the interest of the people above all else.

The petition in the case of Justice K.S. Puttaswamy & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors. [W.P.(C). No. 494/2012], was filed in the Supreme Court to challenge various aspects of the Aadhaar Card scheme and its mandatory nature. The petitioners asserted that the collection of biometric data for Aadhaar card is violative of the right to privacy, which is implied under Article 21 as well as various other articles embodying the fundamental rights guaranteed under Part-III of the Constitution of India.

The three-Judge Bench hearing the Puttaswamy case observed in its order dated 11th August, 2015 that the matter entailed questions of importance involving interpretation of the Constitution. Hence, it referred those substantial questions of law to a Constitutional Bench of appropriate strength. Thereafter, a five-Judge Bench was constituted to determine the Bench strength eligible to decide the question of right to privacy. In light of previous judgments on the issue of privacy, this five-Judge Bench referred the question of whether there is a fundamental right to privacy to a larger nine-Judge Constitution Bench on 18th July, 2017.

For more information please contact:
Mishi Choudhary,
+1 917 325 8594

Image Credit: Legaleagle86 at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

All Posts | May 25,2016

Opening Keynote at re:publica2016 by Mishi Choudhary and Eben Moglen

The last kilometer, the last chance

During the period from 2016 - 2025, the "other half" of the human race will be connected to the Net. Providing connection to the world's poor is the greatest act of social justice, educational opportunity and economic equalization within our power.

All Posts | Aug 14,2015

Lecture on “Software and the law”

You want to build a business and Software Law for you, seems to be about avoiding danger.

Could the law of software really be a subject that could make you save money instead of cost you money?

On August 17, from 2.00 pm to 5.00 pm, Professor Eben Moglen of Columbia law School and Mishi Choudhary founder of SFLC.in will talk about their experience helping startups and free software projects realise how Law can be a basis for success, at the Travancore Hall, Technopark, Trivandrum.Come join us and find out!The event is organised by SFLC.IN, New Delhi in association with ICFOSS, TiE Kerala and G-Tech.


Register here for the participation https://gtech-software-and-the-law.eventbrite.com.

All Posts | Mar 03,2015

CONNECTing the Dots: Options for Future Action

Ms. Mishi Choudhary will be speaking at an international multistakeholder conference on Internet-related issues organized by UNESCO in France, Paris from March 3-4, 2015.

This event is expected to have participants from governments, civil society, academia, private sector, the technical community, inter-governmental and international organizations as well as noted thought leaders, innovators and pioneers in the Internet Governance space.

The conference is part of UNESCO's response in support of the decision taken by its 195 Member States. Through Resolution 52, adopted in 2013 at the 37th session of UNESCO's General Conference, Member States called for a comprehensive and consultative multi-stakeholder study on Internet-related issues within UNESCO's fields of competence. The study will examine current and emerging inter-related trends, challenges and opportunities around access to information and knowledge, freedom of expression, privacy, and ethical dimensions of the information society.

This UNESCO study, its findings, recommendations and the partnerships mobilized represent an important contribution to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) +10 Review process and the post-2015 international development agenda.

- See more at: http://en.unesco.org/events/connecting-dots-options-future-action#sthash.WKB6twjW.dpuf

All Posts | Nov 12,2011

Internet and Freedom of Expression

November 2-4, 2011 took sflc.in to participate in a closed group discussion organized byPoint of View,Internet Democracy Project,Center for Policy Alternatives, andGlobal Partners & Associateson Internet and Freedom of Expression in Kathmandu, Nepal. Participants came from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to interact in this beautiful country, which welcomes everyone with open arms. To my great chagrin, I discovered the harassment Indian officials mete out to foreigners (We are truly "Incredible") and vowed never to complain about visa hassles I face as an Indian. I think reciprocity in these issues assumes tit for tat but I wish we lived up the tourism logo of country and really follow 'Atithi Devo bhav".

We interacted and deliberated on issues in a true round table way (although the table was rectangular in its shape). No long, boring speeches but small snippets of the topics and issues followed by open, passionate discussions took two full working days and spilled over into a few hours on the third day, leaving no time for anything but Freedom of Expression. I even dreamt of Intermediary Liability on the third day apart from covering from jet lag.

Anja, Bishakha, Nigel, Dixie and Sushma ensured that the show ran smoothly and was sprinkled with fun discussions and interactive, talkative dinners wherein we endeavoured to venture out beyond our obsession with the internet and its beauty. The meeting brought together passionate and strong headed professionals such as journalists, community activists, human rights defenders, businesses, film makers, newspaper editors, writers, Twitter superstars, and of course the loquacious sharks (lawyers). Frank La Rue, who is this super charming human rights activist and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expressionbrought amazing clarity to this discussion resting on the intersection of Law, Technology and Politics. His interventions were laconic and precise and were met with nodding heads at least most of the time.

In a nutshell, we covered the following points, not necessarily in the provided order:

  • Shared experiences on threats to freedom of expression in our various countries and the challenges which we face;

  • Recommendations made in Frank's report to the United Nations on May 16, 2011 and compliance and implementation of these recommendations;

  • Access to the internet, surveillance, security, privacy and data protection online, arbitrary filtering and blocking of content and criminalization of expression, and intermediary Liability issues amongst others;

  • Hate Speech online

  • Lady Gaga;

  • Community Radio;

  • Freedom Box;

  • Spectrum;

  • Etymology of terms like 'Hindu-Zionist";

  • White Spaces;
  • Nepali Pashmina Shawls etc.

The diversity of experiences is evident from the name of the countries and I won't elaborate on that but the passion about the issues is universal along with the sense of humor.


We did not realize that the week following the meeting would once again bring out these issues in the limelight. On November 5, 2011 the Director General of the Department of Government Information, Government of Sri Lanka issued a press release mandating all "websites carrying any content relating to Sri Lanka or the people of Sri Lanka... uploaded from Sri Lanka or elsewhere to "register" for "accreditation".

Our Nepalese friends quickly came into action and stood in solidarity with the Sri Lankans in condemning this action and issued thispress release.

The discussions have started an interesting dialogue amongst the stakeholders in all participant countries and one of the foremost developments has resulted in the following statement. Please endorse, share, analyze, comment or if nothing else just read the statement and hope that you still can anonymously comment on this blog without being under surveillance.

All Posts | Aug 14,2010

The BlackBerry Emergency

According to the Government of India, private service providers like AirTel and Vodafone are failing in their legal obligations under the Information Technology Act, hastily amended in the days immediately following the Mumbai 7/11 attacks, by not providing access to the content of emails and texts sent to or from BlackBerry users. As a lawyer, I have some doubt about this legal position, no doubt under discussion between GoI and the service providers. But there is no doubt that the Government has failed to make clear the context of this dispute, or the real consequences of the demands it is making.

BlackBerry devices use the wireless networks of the local service providers to deliver email and texts through servers operated by Research in Motion located outside India. If you or I as individuals buy a BlackBerry through one of the offering service providers, our email and text traffic will not be encrypted, and GoI will have whatever access to our communications the law requires. If, however, your BlackBerry was given to you as an employee of an MNC or a large local enterprise, for work use, those emails and texts will be encrypted so that only the sender and receiver, but not Research in Motion (RIM) and not the local Indian wireless service provider, will be able to read them. Since these parties do not have access to the content of encrypted messages, and therefore cannot provide what Government says the Act requires, the Government now threatens to force a halt to their services as of August 31.

Unless a ring of terrorists is embedded entirely within some MNC, and is using its email and messaging system to plan terrorist attacks or other crimes using corporate BlackBerries, such a service cut would not be likely to prevent the planning or execution of any attacks. What it would do, however, is effectively cut off India from the global financial system. The ability of banks, insurance companies, law firms, consultancies and other professional service enterprises to operate around the globe depends entirely on the flow of confidential intra-firm communications. People cannot do business anywhere unless they can be sure that their firm's business communications are not being overheard by competitors or other parties using breaches in communications networks. So every such enterprise relies upon mechanisms that ensure complete confidentiality on which the movement of trillions of crores every day in the world economy depend. BlackBerry provides one portion of that network to a large subset of that market. Any country which shuts off encrypted BlackBerry communications has shut down its place in the global economy.

Government knows, what the extent of its threat implies if our connection with the global economy is temporarily lost. But if the Government were clear with the public now about the small security benefit to gain and the magnitude of the harm it will cause if its threat is carried out, its dis-proportionality would raise questions in the mind of the public. Apparently GoI believes that such a threat can, from its very desperate dramatic quality, induce a useful result. Unfortunately, this too is wrong. Because nobody but the enterprises themselves have an access to the decrypted information, Government must get inside the BlackBerry itself if it is to read the messages.

Thus, it is likely that GoI is pressurizing the local service providers like Airtel and Vodafone to put spyware within the BlackBerries attached to their networks. Thus, an arriving investment banker or CEO from New York or Frankfurt would have his BlackBerry subject to the introduction of spyware by the network, along with all the BlackBerries used by Indian financial services firms. There is precedent for this effort. One UAE wireless company, Etisalat, was caught installing spyware on more than 100,000 enterprise BlackBerries in the Emirates last year. Research in Motion was required by its customers to bear the cost of software upgrades to the system to remove the spyware and secure their business communications. Etisalat has been fundamentally injured in its credibility in international business, and is in some danger of becoming a global pariah.

GoI is making threats that could only be fulfilled at cataclysmic cost to the economy. It will in effect result in causing immense harm to India's telecommunications sector and our reputation in the global financial services economy, where so many of our jobs are being created. In the end, it would inflict immense damage, much greater than any terrorist could ever cause scarcely achieving any additional security.