LexTalk World Interviews Vaneesha Jain. Vaneesha Jain is an Associate Partner with Saikrishna & Associates. Vaneesha works on Policy matters, with a specialization in technology, copyright and data protection. As one of the leading practitioners in the area of privacy law within the Firm, Vaneesha has advised some of the world’s largest technology companies during the various stages of consultation in the formulation of the Indian data protection law, including with filing submissions to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. She assisted the petitioners in the landmark ‘Aadhaar case’ which led to the historic 9-judge-bench decision that now forms the bedrock on privacy law in India. Vaneesha has advised the Government of India’s Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (“DIPP”) at the Ministry of Trade & Commerce on several matters relating to intellectual property, such as on India’s accession to international treaties such as the WIPO Internet Treaties on copyright as well as in the preparation of an “Enforcement Toolkit” for use by Police Officers and other Enforcement Agencies/officials in implementing intellectual property rights. Vaneesha received her L.L.M. from the NYU School of Law and her first law degree from NUJS, Kolkata.
Host:- Please guide us through your journey as a legal professional so far.
Vaneesha:- I got my first law degree from the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences in 2011, and I went on to get my Masters in Law from New York University in 2015. Ever since I've been back in India, I've been working with the law firm Saikrishna & Associates. Currently, I'm an Associate Partner at the Firm and primarily work in copyright law and in data privacy and technology law, with a focus on policy and advisory matters.
Host: A complex legal issue that you worked on.
Vaneesha:- There are two important international copyright treaties by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), being the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT), collectively known as the ‘Internet Treaties’.
I had an opportunity to work with the DPIIT under the Ministry of Commerce, to assess the 2012 Amendments to the Copyright Act from the perspective of how these amendments have updated the law to bring it up to speed with the nature of activities in the digital era. We did a clause by clause analysis of the WIPO internet treaties, to analyze how the Indian law is compliant with those provisions, and prepared an advisory for the Government on the merits/ demerits of India’s signing on as a party to these treaties.
The exercise culminated in India ratifying the Internet Treaties in 2018.
This was an enriching experience, because it was an opportunity to compare where one’s country is situated, in relation to the international standard.
Host: Vaneesha, the pandemic saw courts moving towards remote proceedings. Is this sustainable and what's your take: is this a possible way to increase access to justice?
Vaneesha: That’s a very interesting question, and the answer seems evident based on what we see happening already, which is which is a “hybrid model” of sorts, where online proceedings continue to happen side by side with physical hearings restarting as the number of COVID cases in each state decline.
Of course, courts were already beginning to adopt certain technology-based tools even before the pandemic hit us, especially in starting processes like digitization of records and use of legal software, but the relatively speedy shift to online hearings has been remarkable.
I do think that are a lot of advantages with things going online, not only for courts but also for lawyers and ultimately, clients. This is primarily in terms of saving time and costs for travel, for client meetings, senior briefings, etc., in addition to court hearings.
In terms of access to justice, though, I feel there have also been disadvantages, because many stakeholders (many from the most marginalized backgrounds) do not actually have access to these technologies, both in terms of infrastructure as well as in terms of digital literacy.
Host: Absolutely. Now let's talk about your expertise of now you work in the area of data protection. How did you get into this area? Can you please throw some light on that?
Vaneesha: My interest in privacy law actually started from a constitutional and civil liberties perspective. I got involved in the Aadhaar litigation in the Supreme Court, joining the team from my Firm that was assisting one of the petitioners in the case.
Through the course of arguments, we delved deep into the importance of the right to privacy and against surveillance. That the Indian Constitution guarantees a fundamental right to privacy was clarified and reified by a historic 9-judge Bench in this case, in 2017.
The Court emphasized that this right to privacy includes the right to ‘informational privacy’ which is of utmost importance in the digital age. In this context, it recommended the creation of a strong legal framework for data protection in India; and the Government of India assured the Court that it had already set up an expert committee to draft a new data protection law.
For me, it was a natural progression to follow the development of this law, right from analyzing the White Paper that was presented by the Expert Committee set up by the Government, to advising clients on the policy implications of the draft Bill that the Committee released in 2018. In 2019, the latest version of this law was released, which is known as the ‘Personal Data Protection Bill’, commonly abbreviated to the ‘PDP Bill’, which is still pending enactment.
In the meantime, I have had the chance to study the PDP Bill in detail, assist industry stakeholders in making submissions to the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology regarding specific clauses from a policy perspective, and advise both domestic as well as international clients on the upcoming compliance obligations so that they may begin preparing their technical and managerial processes to align with the more stringent privacy mandates that are expected to be mandated.
In doing so, I have had a chance to understand the complexities involved in cutting-edge issues in operationalizing data protection obligations such as strengthening consent frameworks, requiring data localization, implementing privacy by design and transparency, reporting obligations around data breaches and transparency, amongst many others.
It is a very exciting space to be in, as one constantly feels the tension between what technology makes possible and to what extent it can/ should be enabled through legal policy.
Host: I understand that you have done your LLM in the United States. Do you think that it impacts your worldview?
Vaneesha: I did my LLM at the New York University School of Law (NYU) in 2014 - 15. I was a Vanderbilt scholar there. The experience I gained during my LLM impacts my work in direct and indirect ways. I feel the biggest benefits are in the soft skills that one picks up, due to the exposure to an international cohort of classmates and the requirement to work up to an international standard of research and writing.
I think an LLM such as the one I did, inculcates the potential to bring a wider perspective to most issues that one deals with, especially in when working in legal policy. It helps to have the exposure to different legal systems followed in different countries, when one uses a comparative law approach to highlight or address policy issues. At NYU, there was a focus on developing a deeper analytical mind, to approach legal issues from an interdisciplinary perspective, and going beyond simply applying existing provisions in an un-critical manner. The American style of legal writing is quite direct (unlike Indian legal styles which can often be quite verbose), and imbibing that to some degree that has been immensely useful for me when drafting memos for clients and other non-legal stakeholders.
Host: How do you ensure to make the best of your time? As a lawyer, I'm sure you have a lot of things on your plate. So how do you manage everything?
Vaneesha: I try to work efficiently!
I'm lucky to be working with colleagues who place a lot of trust in each other. This leads to a culture where rather than requiring a ‘clock in, clock out’ routine physical presence, there is flexibility targeted towards producing quality output for clients in the given timeframes. This has enabled us to adapt quite smoothly to remote working as required during lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The opportunity to lead matters that has been provided to me by my seniors in turn fosters a sense of responsibility to live up to the confidence placed in my abilities. All-nighters when required, can be easily taken in stride when balanced with low-work days where the extra time can be constructively used towards pursuing and sharing other interests. In addition to staying abreast of legal issues and current affairs, I enjoy spending my free time learning classical music, astronomy and art. This keeps me fresh and motivated.