The Internet Freedom Foundation made its first public post on Independence Day, 2016 with the ideal of building an organisation that is an effective advocate for digital rights in India. Over the last two years we've campaigned against internet shutdowns, for implementation of net neutrality and legal reforms to combat censorship and uphold privacy. We've done all this working early mornings, late nights, weekends and during lunch breaks, completely as volunteers.
From October, we will do even more. Apar Gupta, one of our founding trustees, is joining IFF as its first executive director with a mission to build out the organisation.
Apar is a graduate of Amity Law School and Columbia University School of Law. During his tenure in law firms and in his independent law practice for the last four years, he worked on key digital rights litigations in India such as those concerning Section 66A, Intermediary Liability, Internet Shutdowns, the Right to Privacy judgement and the Aadhaar case. In coalitions with other activists, he helped create public campaigns to advance net neutrality, reform defamation laws, fight against internet shutdowns and introduce a strong privacy statute. We are excited to welcome him. Here is a short statement by Apar.
“After litigating for over a decade, doing work that was deeply meaningful and instructive, I am transitioning to helping build a non-profit which has the promise of working on issues of technology to secure freedoms and our constitutional values of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. This becomes important as we participate in a social transformation that is digitally connecting a growing number of Indians. By focussing on public advocacy, creating a respectful and faithful relationship with our volunteers and community, using my experience and skills of approaching courts and regulators, I hope to help fulfil objectives of IFF’s mission. I recognise the challenges which are ahead of me, from organisation building - fundraising, growing resources and attracting top talent as staff, aiding our volunteers and supporters, remaining nimble and executing our work that causes positive impact -- to improving our public accountability, transparency and humility. I look forward to the work ahead and believe IFF is trying to do something special to protect the open internet in India.”
While we look forward to the future, we also pause for reflection. We note that two or our trustees, Nikhil Pahwa and Kiran Jonnalagadda, have decided to leave the organisation to focus on new endeavours. We're very thankful for their key role in creating IFF and supporting it for over two years. We all continue to share a common goal for digital rights in India, and look forward to collaborating again in future.
In the context of supreme court judgments on Privacy and Aadhaar, and on-the-ground technology deployments both by government and private entities, it is important for us to take stock of our achievements and failures and chart a way forward. We believe the following issues will be critical over the coming year:
- Freedom of Expression: There are rising incidents of censorship by various police departments abusing laws such as criminal defamation, sedition and even the unconstitutional Section 66A. We will work for comprehensive legal reforms to combat this. KeepUsOnline, our project against Internet shutdowns, will focus on getting greater transparency in shutdowns and blocking orders. We will also work on solutions to disinformation that do not involve weakening encryption or vague laws criminalising speech.
- Privacy, Encryption and Data Protection: SaveOurPrivacy, a community effort supported by us to defend and expand privacy protections in India, will continue and expand to cover Aadhaar. We're wary of growing surveillance of online lives by both government and private actors, and that the government's flawed data protection bill might be rushed through parliament without open deliberation. We stand ready to intervene using a mix of public awareness, legislative and litigation strategies.
- Electoral Integrity and Support for Digital Rights : The integrity of our electoral process is at risk from both well-funded online misinformation campaigns and censorship on the pretext of combating these campaigns. The increasing importance of the Internet in our lives is not reflected in the national political conversation. We aim to reach out to political parties and individual candidates to elicit pledges on digital rights.
- Net Neutrality: Our work is not done yet! The TRAI recommendations have still not been put into practice and binding law by the Government. We will continue to campaign for this process to be completed, and be vigilant to identify and highlight violations by ISPs.
In all our work, we hope to partner with other rights organisations to achieve shared objectives.
This is a very ambitious acceleration in the scope of our work, which is only possible by building an organisation with a talented and motivated staff, starting with Apar. We're excited to welcome him as our executive director to help steer IFF through the next phase of our journey.
Aravind, Karthik, Rachita, Raman and Rohin, IFF Board of Trustees