Advocate Puneet Bhasin is a pioneer in technology laws in India and a cyber law expert practising in Mumbai in matters involving cybercrimes, e-commerce and intellectual property disputes in cyber space along with advising online gaming companies/content based mobile apps and set top boxes, payment on demand video providers about the legalities of the same. She is the founder of Cyberjure Legal Consulting, a Mumbai-based firm specialising in technology, media and entertainment laws.
She is an advisor to the Rajya Sabha Committee on formulation of internet laws and technology laws in India. She forms a part of Advisory Committee to Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeiTY) on the new data protection framework, to be adopted by Government of India.
She is also a member of the Cyber Security Task Force Working Group since last three years.
She holds a postgraduation in cyber laws (BLS LLB LLM) and is a certified cybercrime investigator and also a certified privacy professional. She is a Harvard University alumni and learned cyber risk mitigation from this prestigious university. Her alma mater consists of prestigious institutes like Government Law College (GLC), Indian School of Business (Hyderabad) and Harvard University.
She conducts lectures in cyber laws in corporates, IT companies and at events, public events organised by NGOs. She also provides training and consultation to major consulting companies. She has also authored many articles on various aspects of cyber laws and is an active blogger on cyber law related issues. Also, in recent times she has advised nationalised banks with whom she is empanelled.
She has been interviewed by Ms Achintaya Soni, Student Ambassador EBC-SCC Online (pursuing BA LLB and in 5th year, UILS, Panjab University, Chandigarh)
1. What was that eureka moment when you decided to enter the field of technology laws and diversify your practice to such an interesting and evolving area of law?
There was no eureka moment per se, but it was primarily that I had experienced other aspects of fields of laws. During college days, I had interned in multiple other avenues of law practice also, whether it may be maritime laws, arbitration or property disputes and from that what interested me the most was technology laws. So, at the end of the day, it was more of a process of selection where I knew that a lot of the other subjects were not as interesting to spend my life in, for me. There are definitely other interesting fields but not something that was exciting for me to that extent for practicing. And that was one of the reasons why I chose technology laws.
2. Please share with us about your journey and the roadblocks you faced which shaped up your career as it stands today.
God has been very kind that the risks I took paid off. Right out of college, I started my practice in cyber laws and it was not a booming field at that time. It was a field that I had interest in, but it was not a sought-after field and smartphones had just made their advent in India. The initial journey had challenges because there were no precedents in terms of cases and in every case extensive work was needed to prove the point; the positive aspect of this would be that it gave opportunity to make precedents. My family was and is always supportive of my career goals and I do think that the careers of many female lawyers is to a great extent in the long run based on family support maternal and marital both, as legal practice is not just time consuming but takes up a lot of mind space too. I have seen many good female lawyers unable to practise because of being unable to balance the pressures of practice and family life and give equal priority to them. It is just that women are expected to be super women, but practically it is impossible in my experience and a practicing female advocate actually has to have multiple supporting hands from her family to enable a healthy work-life balance. A request to parents, husbands and in-laws, do not just encourage the women in your family to reach new heights, empower them by supporting and handling the aspects of family life they are not able to focus on. In this way you are truly empowering them.
3. Can you comment on how law schools take technology laws in the curriculum? Is it accorded the importance it deserves?
Law schools are not really giving enough importance to technology laws. I have seen some courses in some colleges offering masters in technology laws.
The point is that you cannot offer specialisation in a subject without there being prior knowledge or experience in the main subject like a simple example, that mostly technology laws have two aspects, either corporate laws which are totally technology laws compliance which are not highly developed in India; and the second is litigation which is more from the criminal angle, that is, technology crime litigation or cybercrime litigation which is purely a criminal law specialisation.
What is required to understand is that if a college is offering a criminal law specialisation, it is purely theoretical and a lot of students who pass out from the college with the masters degrees attempt to directly enter into practice which might end up disappointing them a lot. The reason being that they need to have experience of trial courts, of criminal law practice actually, and thereafter specialise. It is very simple like an MBBS and an MD degree, you have an MBBS degree thereafter you are required to work in a particular field and post that proceed towards MD degree and then can enter into practice. The same thing applies in specialisations in law. So, definitely colleges should have a disclaimer where they are offering these courses that what they are providing is theoretical, so that even the students realise the need to understand the practical aspects and decide upon taking up the masters course after practical experience or before it and then they need to spend a considerable amount of time post their specialisation degrees to gain the requisite practical knowledge.
4. In the recent years, we have witnessed a spate of legislative changes reforming India’s legal framework across the IT sector. Would you please highlight a recent development that had a very positive impact on the industry?
In the recent times, the landmark regulatory framework which has come out as a legal framework in the IT sector has been with respect to the OTT platforms and intermediary platforms which has been a grey area and was not covered. The Covid lockdown phase led to a huge amount of content circulating on the intermediary platforms. There were multiple platforms and channels starting their own news on YouTube and other platforms. Also OTT content became very popular. So, in that period, in February 2021 I think the most landmark legislative changes were bringing the above into the fold of the law and strict guidelines with respect to defining what classifies them as intermediaries or OTT platforms, what compliance do they need to have in place and also a three-tier grievance redressal mechanism for a consumer or a user using these platforms.
5. Internet usage has increased manifolds today. It has led to many cases involving data theft. Many countries had laws to protect data since long time. How serious is this issue in India and what are the laws in India concerning this issue?
Well, data is a major issue in India. Even today if you go to travel websites and book your tickets suddenly you start getting messages and e-mails about hotels, restaurants in that particular city. Basically, the concept of marketing in India is only what you call a business intelligence, data intelligence or data analytics. It is primarily a usage of data from one portal to another. So the concept of consent really is not there in India as yet and it is not something that a lot of businesses even respect. There is an absolute lacuna in the Indian legal framework. The data protection law is what is proposed wherein a lot of these kinds of business practices will stop, wherein, without the consent of a user you will not be able to share data. This is a serious issue that in a way also constitutes data theft. But because there is no law classifying it as that in India makes it a grey area.
Secondly, with respect to the data theft in organisations, Data theft or data espionage has been absolutely common over the last 15 years in India and this is not something which is not regulated in India. There are laws in India under Section 43 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 read with multiple provisions of IPC wherein it is classified as an offence punishable with imprisonment under the provisions of IPC and also compensation up to one crore rupees under Section 43 of the Information Technology Act.
It is definitely a very alarming issue in India because one of the important things to highlight in employment practices in India involves daily data breaches. So every organisation which employs people from other organisation seeks the data of that organisation. Even the employment many times is based on what the employees bring on the table something from the previous company.
So from that perspective, in India, this is a very serious issue in India which once the data protection laws come into force, a lot of hiring and employment practices in India have to change.
6. Not many people are familiar with the concept “exhaustion of a search”. What are your views on it?
Exhaustion of a search is absolutely important with respect to legal research whether you are in litigation or in corporate law practice. It is very important that your research background is absolutely exhaustive or your team has a strong research background. It not only helps you to understand all aspects of your case, every single legal aspect associated, case laws related, the precedents that maybe there, or an interpretation of the law which can be used in your case in your favour. All of these things only confirm strong research and exhaustion of search on that particular subject which you have to represent whether it will be in a corporate law matter or in a litigation matter. It is very important to have a skill set of this. If you are working in a team, everybody may not have that kind of a skill set, so it could be a team activity or individual practitioners must develop this on their own.
7. Is there any piece of advice that you would like to give to the readers who might want to follow your steps?
My one piece of advice to the youngsters who are looking to understand which field of law they want to practise in is to experience each specialisation available in law and thereafter you can have a selection or a negative marking of those you are not comfortable with or those which you do not wish to pursue. Do not just jump into the bandwagon of something which is booming today or that something is better than the other and based on what others are saying. One of the reasons is that each person has a very unique skill set and only you can explore what you are good at and only when you try it out that you would come to realise what you are genuinely good at.
It is a very simple thing, if you are good at something there is a very high chance that you are going to succeed at it irrespective of there being a 1000 people practising the same thing. But if you take up that thing in which you are hardly 10 people practicing and that it is a booming field but you are not that good at it, the chances that you are going to succeed in it are still going to be much lesser. So you need to understand what you are genuinely good at and proceed to develop skill sets in that area of specialisation. So give yourself the time and space to experience the different specialisations.