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 Claiming the Social: Beyond 'Law as Technology'

-Naveen Thayyil

This special issue is the first of its kind in seeking to connect the conceptual categories of Law, Technology and Society in India, and this by itself makes it an important moment in the intellectual trajectories of the attention on technology within the legal academy. The task here moves beyond a perfunctory introduction of the remarkable contributions in this issue to the reader. An introduction of such a special issue also requires a survey of the terrain that constitutes law and technology scholarship in India, including an overview of the field’s dominant trajectories and foci. Hence this introduction identifies the tropes through which law and technology scholarship has emerged in India; however cursory, economies of space and time will constrain it to be in this introduction.

Identity and Identification: The Individual in the Time of Networked Governance

The rise of digital technologies has foregrounded the individual as the unit of network and database governance. The focus on the quantified self and data subjects has resulted in an increased attention on the rights, responsibilities, and safeguards to protect the individual at the centre of data mining and regulation practices. There is an increased anxiety about how the existing safeguards and policies are inadequate to both activate and to protect the individual in the face of ubiquitous and pervasive computational practices. This paper argues that attempts at trying to extend the fold of existing policies and frameworks are inadequate because they imagine that the individual negotiating with the digital networks is unchanged. Looking at the slippage between identification and identity in the discourse around India’s biometric database governance scheme, Aadhaar, the paper shows how the very conception of the individual and the space for identity expression are changing within digital realms. It further looks at computational architecture and theory to conceptualise an indifferent digital network that is operationalised to create a self-referential system that not only excludes the individual but also creates new ways by which the individual can be controlled and regulated. In mapping the changing contexts and contours of the individual, the paper calls for new research and analysis practices for understanding the diminishing space of expression, agency, and control for individuals in networked governance systems. 

The realization of the promise of the sub hundred dollar mobile device as a facilitator of access to knowledge is contingent inter alia on its availability in the market place. In turn, the market availability of the sub hundred dollar mobile device is influenced by the existence of an enabling environment for producers to produce, and consumers to consume. From a regulatory perspective, the enabling environment itself is a function of existing laws and policies, and the ‘developmental effects’ of certain laws and policies. 

This article seeks to examine one such legal and policy lever and the role of a regulator in the development of an enabling environment for access to sub hundred dollar mobile devices. This paper is founded on four assumptions: first, that access to sub hundred dollar mobile devices is influenced by their price; second, that the question of access necessitates conversation between the intellectual property regime and several other actors, sites and tools; third, that one of the fundamental goals of regulatory reform is the creation of a ‘stable, open and future- proof environment’ that encourages access to these devices; and fourth, that there exist public law implications of intellectual property that justify the involvement of State actors and regulators in matters that may arise out of private transactions. 

Political beings as we are, our work often becomes a looking glass through which the world sees. Try as liberal theory might to separate the public from the private, they exist only as oppositional forces and thus necessarily influence and shape each other. Thus, a person’s politics influences the art he creates. And yet, with the audience, the art begets a life of its own, changing and growing with the audience’s politics. The problem arises when the audience accepts the art but rejects the person – the separation of the artist from his art is a question that has important ramifications across disciplines; be it the bifurcation of judges’ private lives and their actions in Court or the allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of an otherwise prominent and efficient bureaucrat. This paper shall deal with the question of misdemeanours on the part of artists – filmmakers, musicians, authors because of the magnanimous influence they have in shaping the socio-political attitude of the people. The question of the separation will always remain important but its relevance in evaluating the art independently become less important as space is permitted for opposing narratives from the marketplace of ideas as facilitated by social media today.

-Manasi Gandhi

Notes From The Field

Aadhar, touted by its supporters as the ultimate tech solution to India’s development problems, failed to bring the UPA back to power. Despite having trashed it from the Opposition benches, the BJP government is now rolling it out at an accelerated pace despite strong opposition from civil society groups and continuing concern about the technology and its social and ethical implications. This paper examines the official justifications for Aadhar from the perspective of those whose interests it claims to serve. 

Experience on the ground suggests that the real attraction of Aadhar for this government lies in its potential as a tool for the promotion of the interlinked agendas of neoliberal globalisation and militarised nationalism. Disguised as “development”, Aadhar is facilitating India’s transition into a society where critics and dissenters are seen as enemies rather than as essential actors in democracy.

Contents of Volume 11(2)


-Nehaa Chaudhari

-Nishant Shah

-Kalyani Menon Sen

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