Network Building

From IT for Change's Annual Report for 2013-14


Delegates at the 'Internet We Need for the World We Want' conference.
Initial governmental reactions to Snowden in India were mute enough to be embarrassing. In fact, India had to soon revise her reactions to make them sound more severe. Deeper within the government, it began to become apparent that the pro-US positions, advocated and strongly lobbied for by India based US industry, often through less than very fair means, were not sustainable, and that India needs to develop better and clear positions for global IG based on India's interest.

As a culmination of IT for Change's advocacy against corporatist attempts to capture the India Internet Governance space, which very nearly succeeded, the government of India announced a public-funded India IGF, which will meet for the first time in late 2014. IT for Change is a part of the Multistakeholder Advisory Group that is preparing the program for the India IGF.

The department of IT set up a working group for developing Principles for Internet Governance for India. IT for Change is represented in this working group to which it contributed a detailed input " Making a transformational shift - From Internet to Equinet" building on a term that was coined by the then Minister of Communications and IT.

IT for Change developed close relationships with a number of Indian organizations involved with IG issues and those becoming interested in them. It further cemented its position as the organisation that most civil society groups in different non IG areas look up to, to get their IG related information and analysis, especially as far as progressive causes are concerned. In mid February, 2014, with support from the 'Web We Want' initiative, IT for Change held a meeting of many Indian civil society organizations and individuals to trigger a forum for discussing Indian perspectives on IG issues. We specifically sought an Indian vision of 'the Internet we need'. An online forum called has been set up for the same purpose. However, we have not been able to give enough attention to this online forum, which is a key priority for the next year.

“IT for Change has been consistent in identifying the pressing topics, and working with relevant stakeholders to address such issues. Its views on Internet Governance, Data Localization, and Privacy, whilst reflecting civil society viewpoint, also echoes national interest. It engages stakeholders, both in India and abroad, through its deep analysis of the issues involved. It also presents its views forcefully to the policy makers and others at all fora. Our involvement with IT for Change has significantly increased over the years. I’m sure ITfC will continue to press its views on all these topics for being factored into government policies, over a period of time. I wish IT for Change great success in its mission.”

- Dr. Kamlesh Bajaj, Chief Executive Officer, Data Security Council Of India.

In an important development, during the reporting year, IT for Change also developed close working relationships with Indian industry towards seeking perspectives and developments that most suit Indian national interests. Our relationships with Cyber Cafe Association of India (CCAOI), ISPs Association of India and the Data Security Council of India of the premier IT industry association, NASSCOM, stand out in this regard. In early 2014, we co-sponsored a workshop on “"The Emerging issues in Use and Governance of the Internet from the Indian Perspective" along with the CCAOI and others. These relationships followed a growing understanding that the perspectives and positions offered by IT for Change on global and national IG were useful not only for the constituencies that IT for Change centrally works for, i.e. the marginalized groups, but also, in general, very often also for the Indian industry. This, apart from the post-Snowden attempts at course correction within the government as also local industry groups, has given IT for Change a much more mainstream traction in the Indian IG and policy arena. This is in contrast to the earlier years when, despite being well-respected, we were often judged to have somewhat radical positions.


"IT for Change has played an important role in opening up spaces, especially in relation to Indian civil society, for debate on issues pertaining to technology and internet- such as justice, democracy and equity. It has also helped popularise the idea of internet as a commons and the need to democratise its governance. We appreciate their capacity building processes and hope to be involved with future processes."

- South Solidarity Initiative, ActionAid.

Building a progressive civil society coalition in the IG area has been an enormous challenge. Till quite recently, IG has been considered an entirely esoteric issue compared to life and death social and development challenges confronting civil society groups. Lately, even as there is a much better appreciation of the importance and severity of the issue, it is difficult for progressive actors, struggling against such immense odds on so many important fronts, to develop a sustained understanding of IG issues and undertaking the necessary advocacy. Meanwhile, the 'window of opportunity' to influence the formative structures of a new network or information society may close soon, as its basic techno-social structural elements will be set in stone, very difficult to confront and change subsequently.

Further, funding resources for progressive groups in this area are almost non existent. All resources gravitate to support positions where advocacy for freedom of expression makes little distinction between such human rights issues and the great and unrestrained urge of the US government and its monopolistic Internet corporation to ensure a free reign over the whole world for complete social, economic, cultural and political domination. Monopoly corporations are spending huge amounts to fund NGO activity and also collaborate with UN agencies to influence (distort) their agenda.A huge amount of western donor funds have lately poured into this area, which has gone either towards narrowly-motivated efforts in support of Northern hegemony or simplistic formulations which are very inadequate and can do more harm than good in this extremely complex space with great political economy implications. It can be considered surprising that in the midst on such a huge number of IG projects and programs there is almost none oriented to seeing the global Internet from a Southern perspective and focusing on social and economic rights.

IT for Change has always been an important player in global IG-related civil society space. One of IT for Change's members was the first elected coordinator of the Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus and we played an important role in shaping this Caucus' outputs in a period when it was most active. At present however, the IGC has become more or less defunct, as civil society in this area, has not been able to sustain a distinctive space and position that is different from what for instance big business advocates. In, 2012, IT for Change became a founding member of another loose group, BestBits, which as the name suggests, was supposed to pull together diverse civil society views whilst simultaneously aiming at clear purposive action. Despite making a good start in 2012, the management of the BestBits fell into driving it towards a narrow and partisan political agenda over 2013-14, with poor overall accountability to its members. Despite repeated requests, the management group, for instance, refused to reveal the respective sources of funding that supported their global IG activities. Such transparency is considered basic in most global civil society spaces, and it is odd that this is not the case as far as global IG related civil society is concerned.

In such difficult circumstances, with no funds at hand for this purpose, IT for Change kept pressing for pulling together a global coalition of organisations and individuals, which could be the progressive civil society front in this important space. Finally, with funding support from the National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI), Web We Want Initiative, ActionAid, Third World Network, and Software Freedom Law Centre, IT for Change, in partnership with Knowledge Commons, India, organised a global meeting titled 'Towards a Just and Equitable Internet' on February, 2014 . One of the main purposes of the meeting was to explore the formation of such a global coalition. Participants at the three day meeting decided to set up the Just Net Coalition. They formulated its organisational structure and rules, which were finalised post workshop over the coalition-elist. A set of founding principles in the form of the Delhi Declaration was also adopted. There are currently 33 organisational members and 49 individual members in the coalition. It has evoked much interest and many inquiries. Existing members comes from all continents, and involve major progressive groups active globally in areas like trade justice, communication rights, women's rights, access to knowledge, techie activism and so on.

"Working with IT for Change on several occasions over the past decade, has been a gratifying experience and a valuable contribution to our work. In particular, during this year, the Delhi meeting and subsequent work with the Just Net Coalition has offered us new openings for engaging with Internet governance, from a democracy and justice perspective, an issue which we are convinced is of increasing relevance and urgency globally. The leadership and commitment of IT for Change in this process has been a key factor in its success, as they have contributed insight from their experience and from their deep knowledge of the issues involved. It has also allowed us to build stronger South-South connections."

- Sally Burch, Executive Director, Agencia Latinoamericana de Información (ALAI) – Latin American Information Agency .

Within a few weeks and months of its launch, the Just Net Coalition is being recognised as a major global civil society group. With its clarity of norms, principles and objectives it has been able to effectively present positions and statements on all major global IG issues, which are increasingly being anticipated and taken note of with much interest. This is unlike other major global groupings, who remain embroiled in process issues – limited mostly to denying (mostly developing country) governments their legitimate public policy roles in this area. Just Net Coalition has developed positions in many areas right from the need for a global treaty on cyber peace and non aggression, and another against mass surveillance, to, how global governance of the Internet should be democratised, with clear institutional proposals. The positions and statements produced by the Coalition can be seen here.

The real challenge is to take the Coalition's membership down and across to grassroots activist groups in different areas, including techie activists, by concretising an identity and message that can pull together the aspirations of all those who want the new techno-structures to promote rather than subvert democracy, social justice and human rights.

JNC at Netmundial

Many members of the Just Net Coalition participated in the NetMundial meeting, and one of them was included in the High Level Organizing Committee. We presented inputs to the process in the form of broad IG principles as well as specific proposals for institutional reform. When we saw the outcome document going in the wrong direction, we made a statement to this end. At the end of NetMundial, the statement from the Just Net Coalition was the most well argued critique that was widely noted. Subsequent events, like the NetMundial 'Initiative' being adopted and proposed to be led by the World Economic Forum, have validated our critique.