Revisiting the legal regulation of digital identity in the light of global implementation and local difference
Rodrigues, Rowena Edwardina
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This thesis aims to address a vital gap that has emerged in the digital identity regulatory discourse: how can the legal regulation of digital identity mirror the global nature of digital identity and be compatible with national local difference? Digital identity, or the digital representation of an individual, is a complex concept, which manifests in myriad forms (e.g. authenticators, claims, data or information, identifiers, presence, relationship representations and reputation) and natures. As such, it engages a gamut of legal domains ranging from criminal law, constitutional law, human rights law, law of identity schemes, contract law, intellectual property law, tort law and data protection law. Digital identity is global and local in its nature, influence and effects. Yet, the digital identity regulatory discourse has primarily developed in and focussed on the digitally advanced West, leaving out countries like India which are developing strong digital presences, with their own digital identity perceptions and needs. This situation is adverse to the sustained future of digital identity. Thus, the contribution of this thesis lies in filling this gap and preparing the ground for a dialogue between different countries with different national agendas through building international and local awareness of how similarities and differences operate in respect of digital identity, its regulation and providing a modest solution to help preserve the global and local dimensions of digital identity and its regulation. To this end, the thesis carried out comparative legal research on the legal regulation of digital identity using the UK and India as base jurisdictions. The original hypothesis was that that immense differences in the legal regulation of digital identity between the comparator countries would emerge. Yet, though differences were evident, considerable degrees of similarity also emerged, not just on the superficial level of mere identity of rules, but also in legal practice, in large part attributable to India’s penchant for legal transplants. While the transplantation of Western law did not result in a full-scale rejection of the transplanted laws in relation to digital identity in India, there are indications of anomalies caused by the imposition of Western cultural norms through law on an Indian society ill prepared for it. Thus there has resulted a tension between the local and the global, the indigenous and the externally imposed. The challenge is thus to resolve this, taking into account, on the one hand the need to maintain the global nature and relevance of digital identity and the other, the need to accommodate and be responsive to local differences. The thesis proposes a tentative solution called the tri-elemental framework (TeF) which draws from the Indian philosophical and legal concept of dharma (and its elements of Sad Achara, Vyavahara and Prayaschitta) and learns from the most universally relevant digital identity proposal, De Hert’s right to identity. The solution provides one way in which the law regulating digital identity, whatever its nature, can be made sense of and acquire cultural meaning appropriate to local contexts.