From IT for Change's Annual Report for 2013-14
| "In my brief association with IT for Change, I have found it to be focused, professional and constructive."
2013- 14 was the year of Snowden revelations, and the world of IG would be never the same again. In terms of IT for Change's institutional engagements, its role in the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (UN CSTD) Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation (WGEC) was most significant. At the national level, as a successful culmination of our strong advocacy over the previous years against corporate captured IG discussion spaces, the government of India instituted a public-funded India Internet Governance Forum. Within the civil society space, we were able to present clear problematics and fault-lines vis a vis the positions and activities of, what unfortunately still continues to be, the dominant section of global civil society in the IG space. This year saw the emergence of a major new global group, the Just Net Coalition, with the promise of alternative, progressive, civil society advocacy and action. We also developed new partners and networks within India among both civil society groups and domestic industry players. Close to the end of the reporting period was held the much anticipated NetMundial global IG event in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which however failed to live up to its promise. Owing largely to Snowden, 2013-14 was a year of major transition from a relatively innocent pre 2013/14 period, when IT for Change was among extremely very few voices seeking forward-looking progressive thinking and action, to the post 2013/14 period, which is expected to be marked by new paradigms and significant shifts in the global IG space. The run up to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) plus 10 review in 2015 and the actual event would be extremely important in this regard.
UN Working Group on Internet policy issues
In April 2013, a large number of civil society organizations and individuals supported nomination of IT for Change for the UN CSTD WGEC. This group had the mandate to explore institutional adequacy and options for addressing global Internet-related public policy issues. As a consequence we were invited to be one among the 5 civil society members of this group from across the globe. The group carried on with the very significant participatory innovation in the UN system, adopted by the WG on Improvements to the Internet Governance Forum whereby 5 members each from civil society, business and technical community were 'invited participants' of an otherwise UN membership based political group. All the invited participants, in practice, participated on a fully equal basis during the working group proceedings. In fact, they often took important responsibilities within the group – for instance, two such non governmental participants undertook the important responsibility of compiling, listing and classifying various Internet-related public policy issues.
The group had the very important mandate of finding solutions to the major question left open by the WSIS about how are the various global Internet-related policy issues to be dealt with? It was always expected that the WG will have a rough ride, so distant and hotly contested were the positions on this issue between the developed and the developing countries. However, with the growing number of high priority global policy issues, about which even the non-US developed countries were becoming very concerned, it was hoped that some progress towards institutionalisation of effective and appropriate global mechanisms for addressing global Internet-related public policy issues would be made.
The working group met 4 times over the year. In its first meeting it created a questionnaire for obtaining public inputs. IT for Change gave an elaborate response to the questionnaire. We also held a briefing at the South Centre, Geneva, for developing country representatives on various issues related to the WGEC and the questionnaire. Along with the South Centre, we produced an elaborate model response to the questionnaire which was circulated to all developing country missions in Geneva. We found this model response to have strongly influenced the responses that developing countries submitted to the WGEC, including some of the most prominent WGEC participants like Brazil and India. One of the most important questions was about recognizing global public policy issues related to the Internet. Our listing, reflected in many a submission, helped build a body of knowledge and reference among developed country which did not exist in any clear way till then.
Despite such an important mandate for the WG, its proceedings in its 2nd, 3rd and 4th meeting were rather listless. There was no political will among the US and its governmental and non-governmental allies to move an inch from the status quo. European countries, which otherwise regularly offer strong opposition to the excesses of the US based Internet monopolies, chose to stick with their overall economic and political alliance with the US. The entire set of business and technical community representatives batted for the status quo as well, resisting any proposals for any possible evolution often even more strongly that the US representative. Worse, most civil society participants were either non-committal, vis a vis the status quo-ist foot-dragging, or actively supported the status quo.
The WGEC meeting thus showed a strange spectacle, where not only the big business and technical community (which ideally should be more like civil society, but in practice is mostly indistinguishable from the big business) but also the civil society representatives were mostly found speaking the same language as the US, the most powerful economic and political force in the world, and therefore otherwise almost always the butt of civil society attacks at most global forums. Civil society and the technical community should have been the ones, having been given near equal membership in this important WG, to represent global public interest and seek institutions for democratic resolution of global Internet-related public policy issues. The manner in which they acted in the WGEC, not only compromised the global public interest in this regard, it also pushed back a very significant participatory innovation in the UN system in terms of the composition of the Working Group. It led to further suspicion among developing country governments vis a vis the role of non-governmental players at the global IG space. It was no surprise then that when the proposal to extend the term of the WGEC came up for the consideration of the CSTD in May 2014, developing countries joined the developed ones - who in any case wanted this discussion to stop - in showing no eagerness to extend WGEC's term. Developing countries seeking change from the status quo thought it better to take the discussion to the deep UN space, around the General Assembly in New York, where non- governmental actors are not available to the US to help it prop the status quo. This may be considered a big significant setback to what was a significant participatory innovations in the UN system.
The WGEC could not fulfill its mandate and made no recommendations on how to plug institutional gaps in terms of global Internet policy issues. This struggle now goes to the WSIS plus 10 high-level review meeting in late 2015. WGEC's experience showed that the status quoists did not just want Multistakeholder participation in the UN processes of global governance, they wanted global governance to be taken completely out of the UN to loose private processes fully controlled by them. Such a thinking was evident in the celebration of the NetMundial event and its subsequent processes (like a proposed NetMundial Initiative led by the World Economic Forum) as having greater legitimacy that UN based process. These changes represent an important watershed in global governance.
Internet Governance Forum in Bali, Indonesia
We were invited to various panels at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), Bali, by various renowned global agencies like UNESCO and Brazilian Internet Steering Committee. Apart from these, we also spoke on panels on net neutrality, rights related issues and Multistakeholder participation. In all our submissions, including those to the plenary sessions, we highlighted the need for democratic Internet related public policy making, with an accent on equity and social justice.
IGF, Bali, was dominated by discussions on the proposed global IG meeting in Brazil (later named as NetMundial), which had begun to assume momentous proportions. IT for Change was in the forefront of civil discussion and positions regarding giving it an equal role in organising the meeting. We also networked closely with many government representatives on the issue of the proposed meeting, and its likely outcomes.
A new global progressive coalition
"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."
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."
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.
The NetMundial Event
With Brazil joining India to propose a new UN based global IG mechanism, this would have been the game changer. Alarm bells rang in the status quo-ists circles, and it must be said to their credit that the status quo defenders came up with an excellent strategy that evidently not only neutralised Brazil's strong initiative but also pulled Brazil considerably to the side of the status quo-ist position. The CEO of ICANN, the global body concerned with technical governance of the Internet, under the supervision of the US government, was dispatched to Brazil. He declared that the Brazilian President's statements had resonated across the world and that Brazil should take up the leadership for seeking a new direction for global IG. In response to this, Brazil agreed to hold a 'Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance' In Sao Paulo. Later the meeting came to be known as the NetMundial meeting. Very soon after the meeting was announced, ICANN wriggled itself into co-ownership of the meeting, and then to mostly calling the shots. As a consequence, instead of moving ahead towards making any concrete changes, the NetMundial meeting concluded by largely supporting the status quo with a new Multistakeholder Statement . It should be prima facie surprising that an event that was called to address the outrage caused by the US government and its monopoly Internet corporations, as revealed by Snowden, ended up with outcomes that have since been most celebrated by these very actors.
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.
India-level developments and engagements
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 civilsocietyforum@Internetweneed.in 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.”