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The Internet Rules: Unboxing Digital Laws in South Asia workshop kicked off on 23 November online, with 26 young digital rights defenders from all over South Asia coming together to learn about internet governance, jurisprudence related to the internet and online services, digital laws, and related concepts. The workshop is an annual capacity-building activity that aims to enhance the participants’ understanding and analysis of laws governing online spaces and technology.

Day 1 was dedicated to the fundamentals. The goal for the day was to introduce participants to basic concepts of law and the information and communications technology (ICT) law ecosystem, so that they could access the other sessions in the workshop more easily, and also apply some of these learnings to their future work.

In the first session of the workshop, “Introduction to Law and Jurisprudence”, led by Arindrajit Basu of the Centre for Internet and Society, participants were introduced to various concepts of law, including what we mean by “law”, its various components, the different types of instruments found in our legal systems, the differences in our legal systems and how power is distributed, how judgements should be read, and how laws should be interpreted.

An important takeaway from the session was that laws should be used to hold everyone accountable while empowering those who have been disenfranchised or subjugated. If laws give away too much power to the government, and reduce the scope of public consultations and protections to individuals, it could be extremely damaging to democracy.

In this session, participants learned that laws in South Asia are interconnected, as the region is closely bound by social, political, cultural and economic realities. The participants were also urged to look into laws not as rules that are set in stone, but as dynamic and ever-evolving, and as instruments to be updated to respond to the present realities of the people. Laws should also be interpreted with an advocacy mindset and using frameworks such as the feminist and rights-based approaches. 

After a break, Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia Policy Director at Access Now, led the second session of the day, “Introduction to the ICT Law Ecosystem”. This session looked into how the current ICT law ecosystem has developed, the entities involved in developing it, and how much it has changed throughout the years.

During this session, participants learned that today’s internet is made possible by a series of laws imposed by countries and states to regulate the complex web of the internet and the physical infrastructure that supports it. ICT laws are also not standalone laws. In Southeast Asia, South Asia, Africa, Latin America and other parts of the world, ICT laws were developed based on existing laws such as international trade laws and communication laws. These are laws which were adapted from other laws that were existing before, and therefore come with the limitations borne out of such a refashioning. Ultimately, today's internet is built on not just the technologies of the past but also the regulatory approaches to these technologies in the past. It is important to understand this context in order to understand the ecosystem in which current ICT laws are developed and implemented.

The session also noted that regulation by governments of the internet and its services is not necessarily bad. However, regulations and laws imposed on digital services should be checked if they are in compliance with international standards, promote human rights and are useful and applicable to people’s daily lives. 

The first day of the workshop closed with a dynamic exchange of ideas between the participants and the experts. The day ended with a greater appreciation for ICT laws and how they can be wielded as powerful weapons in keeping the internet a safe, free and open place for all. 

Click here for more information about the Internet Rules: Unboxing Digital Laws in South Asia workshop.