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Pria Chetty is a rising star in the world of technology law. Memeburn recently spoke to her about the legal challenges which abound in delivering the benefits of IT to all South Africans, the future of internet regulation on the African continent and her goal of adding “a credible African voice to global tech law conversations”.
Andrew Rens: How did you get into tech law?
Pria Chetty: In 2000 I saw a presentation, one slide showed internet connectivity in North America and then another slide showed how little Internet connectivity there was in Africa.
AR: Wait, you saw how low internet connectivity was and decided to be a tech lawyer? Some people would have concluded that low internet connectivity would result in a low demand for tech legal services.
PC: I like a challenge (grins). Actually, I wanted to help change the situation in Africa by promoting technology law and policy that would enable Africans to access and use technology to improve our lives.
Later on I had a chance to learn from Reinhard Buys, a true pioneer in the field of tech law when I joined his law firm.
AR: Why tech law?
PC: I have been told that my eyes light up when I speak about content wars or the future of the GPL. It’s difficult to explain. I marvel at the developments in tech law in the same way that tech geeks look forward to later releases of their favourite geek toy. I sincerely believe however, that effective ICT policy, law and regulation is essential to delivering the benefits of ICT’s to all South Africans. I can’t think of a better way to spend my time than helping inventors and tech-geeks reach their goals.
AR: What new development(s) in tech law should Memeburn readers be alert about?
PC: South Africa is gearing for a true broadband era. This is evident both in the market and regulatory space. Membeburners will likely be asking themselves how they will feature in the broadband green field. Along with this Memeburners should be aware of the developments in content regulation — Intellectual Property, privacy, competition, marketing etc. There are several new pieces of legislation either out or coming soon in SA that change the face of content regulation.
Globally all tech players need to apply their minds to how they position their privacy policies and practices. Companies are being measured by consumers on their position on the privacy spectrum and this means that privacy becomes a strategic rather than operational issue.
AR: Tell us about the decision to start your own firm.
PC: My initial motivation was finding the flexibility to practice tech law and participate in initiatives to reform tech law. It grew into a the desire to transform tech law from a step child of the legal profession, considered by many to be too theoretical or complex, into a credible mainstream field of practice. When I first envisaged the firm I sought out thought leaders in the field and inevitably,that vision grew.
Remember the day, I think it was early 2007 when you and I met up in a coffee shop on 4th Avenue in Parkhurst, and spent a couple of hours conceptualizing and dreaming up the kind of law firm that would change how tech law was practiced in South Africa.
AR: Four years later you have taken the Chetty Law team to start a new Tech and Innovation Law consulting practice at international consulting firm Price Water House Coopers. What is your vision for the new practice?
PC: “Chetty Law on hyper drive”.
When I look back in a few years, I would like to see that we have delivered on the opportunities we have now; to create a training ground for tech lawyers, to collaborate with our peers across the world and strengthen local knowledge. As part of an international consulting practice there are resources that we can draw on to add a credible African voice to global tech law conversations and to collaborate with other disciplines. I also want us to challenge perceptions of lawyers through the work that we do and the networks that we build. I hope that our practice area becomes key influencers for policy and the preferred African tech- law resource based on the depth and insight we build. At the same time we should retain our professional but innovative and approachable culture.
AR: You’ve done a lot of public interest work, including lobbying the World Intellectual Property Organisation with me in Geneva to increase access to knowledge. How does that fit in with a practise that works with many of largest corporations in SA?
PC: Since being here I have observed that PWC is a trusted advisor to many public, public interest and international development organisations in addition to private sector clients. In the language of big data, there would be a real challenge mapping the knowledge of the firm and how this knowledge is applied. We hope to leverage that knowledge, take it where it is needed and apply it to render positive change in organisations, lives of people and the growth goals of the continent.
Coming back to Geneva, however, I consider it a second home after just one visit.
AR: Tell us why you like Geneva as a city?
PC: It gives me a sense of being part of a global think tank. I walk around and see posters for public lectures on the end of poverty and addressing climate change. Geneva combines the sense of significance of purpose with an international collaborative feel that is endearing. It’s also a melting pot of cultures and backgrounds. I delight at the number of accents in a room at a meeting. It also has a lake and fine chocolate which of course, adds to its appeal.
AR: What is keeping your mind busy at the moment?
PC: I am as always, curious about the planets, evolution, aliens, alternative energy sources, the profound intelligence of cats etc. I am completing a Masters in Management of ICT policy and regulation and writing on electronic signature regulation. I am, of course, also conceptualising a practice that will exceed the expectations of our fans…