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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 | Dec 03,2016

Press release: Report on ‘Online Harassment: A form of Censorship’

Mindless abuse and threats of violence are commonplace on online speech platforms like social media websites nowadays, says a new report titled, ‘Online Harassment: A Form of Censorship’, by SFLC.IN, a Delhi-based not-for-profit legal services organization.

Greater transparency and responsiveness in content moderation processes adopted by such platforms, along with renewed focus on capacity building for law enforcement agents could go a long way towards addressing the issue, finds the report. Attention should also be paid to educating people about existing mechanisms for combating online harassment, the report adds.

“There is a need for adequate legal protections against online harassment. However, this should not be seen under any circumstance as an endorsement of draconian laws like the now-repealed Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act), which lent itself to wanton abuse due to its over-broad and ambiguous language”, said Baijayant Panda, Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha, also one the interviewees featured in the report.

Free speech should not be restrained, unless it is transcending from talk to action: MP Baijayant Panda at SFLC.IN report launch.

Delivering the keynote address at the report launch, Mr Panda said, “Speech itself should not be restrained or shut down forcibly unless there is imminent clear and present danger of violence, or break down of public order.”

At the same time, there must be harmony between the laws that impact us in real lifeand those that impact us online. Online world can be liberating but if someone is threatening you, they should notbe able to get away with it by claiming free speech protections, he said.

The report is supported by the Software Freedom Law Center, New York and Jigsaw, a New York based think tank, and features dialogues with key stakeholders, including social media platforms and 18 prominent individuals involved in the debate around online hate speech and harassment.

The individuals interviewed for the report include legislators, journalists, civil society actors and targets of online harassment campaigns, who have had first hand glimpses at the plight of the harassed. The list of individual interviewed is provided in Editor’s notes below.Talking about the report, Mishi Choudhary, Executive Director at SFLC.IN said, “We have been studying online harassment as form of censorship that forces people out of participation in online policy discourses. This report’s goal is to explore this phenomenon in detail, document how people experience the effects of harassment in their lives as we work towards finding a workable and understandable ways to address the problem.”

“Online platforms presently suffer from lack of trust when it comes to guaranteeing users’ safety, and the significant levels of human intervention in content moderation further dilutes this trust as it involves personal biases”, noted Arvind Gupta, National Head, Information and Technology, BJP – another one of the report’s interviewees. “As we move towards digital democracy, it is absolutely critical for platforms to stay neutral. Platforms need to build a system of trust and non partisanship by heeding user feedback and implementing broad-based changes to their content moderation practices on the basis of this feedback”, he said.

Calling human intervention as of ‘paramount importance’ in maintaining civility on platforms, Chetan Krishnaswamy, Country Head, Public Policy, Google India said, “Considering the volume of content being generated, technology tools are at times necessary in content moderation. However, human involvement is still required to sift through the content and determine what is right and what is wrong.”

Dr. Anja Kovacs, Director of Internet Democracy Project, said that more law was not the solution to tackling the issue of online harassment. “I think it’s really important to not have the same standard for all intermediaries. Even though in this debate of Facebook versus Twitter, Facebook is often seen as the more safe platform but many activists still prefer Twitter because it allows anonymity.”

Representing that element of the state that enforces‘reasonable restrictions’ on freedom of expression, Anyesh Roy – Deputy Commissioner of Delhi Police (Cyber Crime) said,“We often face jurisdiction issues with platforms; who sometimes refuse to share information. All platforms with consumers in India should respect the law of the land and share information when requested by the law enforcement.” He also talked about the need to evolve an “entire ecosystem and mechanisms within the intermediaries where grievances are addressed and everybody is able to enjoy their freedom of expression.”

Mahima Kaul, Head of Public Policy, Twitter India, talked about the policy changes introduced by Twitter last week where people can mute certain phrases or conversations. “This is indicative of how seriously Twitter addresses the issue of harassment and has a policy against hateful conduct.”

Saikat Datta, Cyber Security Consultant and Consulting Editor at Scroll.in, said,“If there is a certain amount of ugliness that reflects on social media platforms, we should be able to recognize the horrors of society and take action upon them.” Saikat added how ‘privacy’ should be a fundamental right as it has huge implications on, among other things, free speech.

The report suggests the following safeguards to social media users against online harassment and abuse:

  • Thoroughly screen the personal information shared online
  • Consider dedicating an email-ID for social media use
  • Avoid uploading photos that identify you along with your location to protect your identity
  • Use a pseudonym, if anonymity is relevant in your online activities
  • Keep a tab on information others post about you to ensure no personally identifiable information reaches unwanted hands
  • Run Internet searches on yourself to monitor unauthorized information appearing online
  • Use stronger passwords, and review your service providers’ privacy policies

The report further recommends the following steps to be taken in cases where users find themselves at the receiving end of targeted online harassment campaigns:

  • Report incidents to the concerned service providers
  • Block the perpetrators, when the perpetrators are limited in number
  • Approach law enforcement as a last resort, when there are real threats to physical safety
  • Seek help from social media influencers
  • Record all communications with perpetrators, service providers and law enforcement
  • Seek support from friends and family

For platforms like Facebook and Twitter, the report suggests the set of following 11 draft best practices to limit online harassment, with the express condition that these proposals require substantial deliberations before being formalized:

  1. Have in place rules that prohibit hateful, disparaging, and harassing content on intermediary networks; rules must be clearly articulated and designed for easy consumption; include illustrative examples for each category of prohibited content
  2. Generate awareness within user community on prohibited content; notification systems, promotional banners etc. could be leveraged for the purpose
  3. Enable easy and accurate reportage by users and third-parties; include easily identifiable “report” buttons; provide adequate opportunities to substantiate why content must be removed
  4. Have clearly defined review processes prescribing (where possible) objective standards for determining permissibility; refer to applicable national laws
  5. Deploy dedicated teams to review and disable content; provide periodic training to review teams on efficient identification and disablement;
  6. Review reports and disable content within a prescribed time frame (24/48/76 hours)
  7. Provide opportunities to creators of disabled content to justify themselves; include 
provisions for timely restoration of disabled content and reinstation of terminated accounts
  8. Share best practices within stakeholder community; contribute to building effective multi- stakeholder norms for tackling prohibited content
  9. Liaise with law enforcement; aid in investigation of reported offenses in consonance with established legal procedures
  10. Work with other stakeholder communities; engage with civil society organizations and academia on awareness generation; conduct trainings/workshops for law enforcement officials on reportage mechanisms so as to facilitate effective handling of complaints
  11. Promote counter-speech; invite counter narratives from public figures; offer incentives; conceptualize additional means to promote counter-speech

“This is but the first in a series of studies that SFLC.in intends to undertake in this domain. We invite people to join us as we attempt to build a sustainable dialogue around online harassment, as participatory and result-oriented initiatives are required to arrive at a definitive solution,” Ms. Choudhary added.

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Editor’s Notes

The list of interviewees for the ‘Online Harassment: A Form of Censorship’ report is below (in alphabetical order):

  1. Abhinandan Sekhri, Co-founder, NewsLaundry
  2. Arvind Gupta, National Head, Information and Technology, BJP
  3. Baijayant Panda, Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha
  4. Bishakha Datta; Executive Director, Point of View
  5. Hartosh Singh Bal; Political Editor, The Caravan
  6. Inji Pennu; Writer, activist
  7. Karuna John; Freelance journalist
  8. Kavita Krishnan; Secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Commission
  9. Meena Kandasamy; Poet, writer, activist
  10. Navrang S B; Former Head of Social Media, BJP
  11. PrabirPurkayastha; Editor, Newsclick
  12. Rajeev Chandrasekhar; Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha
  13. Rakshit Tandon; Cyber Security Expert and Consultant
  14. Ravish Kumar; News Anchor, NDTV India
  15. Rega Jha; Editor, BuzzFeed India
  16. Rohit Chopra; Associate Professor, Santa Clara University
  17. Saikat Datta; Journalist
  18. Sheeba Aslam; Journalist, scholar and Islamic writer

A copy of the report can be accessed here.

All Posts | Feb 22,2016

Press Release: Indian Patent Office Says No to Software Patents

The Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks has issued an order dated February 19, 2016 publishing the revised Guidelines for Computer Related Inventions. The current guidelines are in tune with the provisions in the Patents Act, 1970 (as amended).

Section 3(k) of the Patents Act that was included by an amendment in 2002 excludes mathematical methods, business methods, computer programmes per se and algorithms from the realm of patentable subject matter. Although an attempt was made to broaden the scope of patentability of software by an ordinance in 2004 and by an amendment in 2005, this was rejected by the legislature.

The Patent Office had earlier published the Guidelines on August 21, 2015. These guidelines were against the statutory provisions and could have resulted in a flood of patents being granted in the field of software. SFLC.in along with iSPIRT (Indian Software Product Industry Round Table) and Knowledge Commons led a group of civil society organisations, academicians and start-ups in writing a joint letter to the Prime Minister's Office, the concerned ministries and the Patent Office requesting to recall the Guidelines.

The Government and the Patent office quickly responded to the letter. The Controller, after listening to the views expressed by SFLC.in and Knowledge Commons at a meeting held on October 21, 2015, issued an order dated December 14, 2015 keeping the guidelines in abeyance. The Controller then held a public consultation at the patent office in Mumbai on January 19, 2016.

The 2015 guidelines could have resulted in making it difficult for software developers to innovate with expansion of scope of patentability in the field of software. Prasanth Sugathan, counsel at SFLC.in, who represented the organisation at the consultations said: "The legislature by limiting the scope of patentable subject matter in the field of software wanted our software professionals and industry to innovate and not be stifled by companies holding a stockpile of patents. We are grateful to the Government and the patent office for listening to our feedback and suggestions and preserving the freedom of our coders and entrepreneurs to innovate without shackles."

Mishi Choudhary, Executive Director, SFLC.in and Expert, Software Patent Group at ISPIRT said "This Government initially with its approach towards Net Neutrality and now with its stand on Software Patents has shown that it is betting big on the innovation economy and will not let anything hinder the freedom to innovate. We hope to continue to work with the Government and the Patent Office to ensure that innovation is encouraged and to limit the grant of irregular patents."

The patent office has accepted the three part test suggested by SFLC.in to determine the patentability of CRIs:

(1) openly construe the claim and identify the actual contribution;

(2)If the contribution lies only in mathematical method, business method or algorithm, deny the claim;

(3) If the contribution lies in the field of computer programme, check whether it is claimed in conjunction with a novel hardware and proceed to other steps to determine patentability with respect to the invention.. The computer programme in itself is never patentable. If the contribution lies solely in the computer programme, deny the claim. If the contribution lies in both the computer programme as well as hardware, proceed to other steps of patentability.

Such a test will ensure that applications for patents in the field of software will be rejected and only genuine applications claiming a novel hardware component along with software will be eligible for patent protection.

For more information please contact:


Mishi Choudhary,
Executive Director, SFLC.in +1 917 325 8594 mishi-at-softwarefreedom-dot-org

Prasanth Sugathan,
Counsel, SFLC.in +91 90135 85902 / +91 94472 91565 prasanth-at-sflc-dot-in