A Republic Day letter from IFF

Greetings from a cold, sunlit Delhi. Today, most of the roads around India Gate are blocked as we welcomed a row of tableaus for the Republic Day parade. It gives all Indians a chance to take pride in the progress we have made. This includes our growing leadership in information technology. But, even as we celebrate, concerns linger on an uncertain future. At present large swathes of online commentary are pessimistic in an ongoing wave of a "tech lash". This comes with good reason with growing threats to our liberties and rights from large platforms and government.

In 2019, IFF views its mission seriously but with a sense of optimism. Over the past month, we have taken actions and made considerable progress to ensure our constitutional promises with technology -- of liberty, justice, fraternity and equality --  are realised. This is possible with the continuing generosity and affection we have received from a growing community of supporters.

More donors and volunteers are joining us!

I am pleased to first note that more individuals continue to donate to us. Going from 6 donors in October 2018 we scaled to 45 individual donations in December 2018. This month we have touched 36 donors. Such grassroots support helps us grow in strength and capacity as we accelerate our work. It brings me great joy as I have noticed many people are donating every month. To ease friction, we will soon be rolling out an informal membership option where you can support our work with the option of a recurring contribution.  While the total pool still does not match our needs, each donation is a source of pride. We need more donors and more help and I am confident we will be able to meet our financial goals to hire staff and build capacity to fight off threats.

As many of you have signed up to volunteer, we would like to update you on our continuing efforts to enable internet users to defend digital rights. We are building civic capacity by efforts to form a community which shares a passion for digital rights. To open up our work for engagement and review we are experimenting with a Slack group where we help curate conversations and discuss projects. Volunteers from the fields of technology, policy and parliamentary experts, litigators and academics are working in different workgroups and executing projects to a high degree of skill and expertise. Our engagement on social media and the community on Reddit has been an ongoing conversation of support and learning.

Every day more people offer IFF help. They send a kind note, make a donation, offer their time, even demand we do better [correct our typos :D].

We have been busy!

Over the past month, we have taken a range of actions on the core domains that are part of IFF's mandate.

  • Privacy: On January 14, IFF went to the Supreme Court challenging the digital surveillance powers that enabled the MHA Notification authorising 10 agencies to collect your personal data. We argued that the system right now lacks any checks and balances. This is worrying as the government can collect and requisition our data arbitrarily. An important part of our petition is the #SaveOurPrivacy campaign. In our case, we have cited the fact that more than 11,000 people and 32 organisations support surveillance reform in India. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear our case and issued notice to the Government. Earlier in the month we revealed the full text of the proposed changes to the Intermediary Rules and put out an analysis on how it was taking us towards a china model of digital command and control. Throughout the winter session of parliament, we organised briefings for MPs and their offices on legislation that impact your privacy rights.
  • Free Expression: As threats grow to online censorship through censorship codes, the revival of Section 66A (yes, we discovered it was still being used despite being ruled as unconstitutional!) and internet shutdowns, we fought back. Our work over the past month includes a court intervention by the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) which relies on an IFF study, parliamentary briefings and notices to various bodies, particularly on online video streaming services. Surely, no one will want to watch a censored final season of the Game of Thrones?
  • Net Neutrality and Innovation: To ensure that the existing net neutrality laws do not become a dead letter we have started examining options at enforcement and remedy. The first step in this is data collection. IFF has launched an online form to gather reports of blocking of VPNs and proxy websites. In addition to this our policy work continues. We are actively corresponding with government bodies and participating in TRAI consultations. For instance, in the latest OTT consultation we have asked TRAI not to license internet services and applications. Yes, we are not giving up on saving the internet!

Our work is towards action, that causes positive impact and public victories. All of it is captured in simple, concise explainers on the IFF website.

Support our mission in 2019

Want us to scale up our efforts? Become more effective in our work? Ensure victories for your digital rights? Then consider donating to IFF! No amount is small and we cherish every rupee of support that is extended to us. This republic day let us reflect on our constitutional promises. For liberty, fraternity, equality and justice.

Thank you for supporting our internet freedom tableau!

Apar Gupta, Executive Director, Internet Freedom Foundation