Notes from a Digital Republic

A note from IFF to it's broader community on the 71st Republic day.

26 January, 2020
4 min read

Today marks our 71st Republic day. It's been an annual tradition of sorts at IFF to use this occasion to reflect and also indicate what small  role we hope to play in support of our constitutional ideals.

India stands on the edge of a technological precipice

In  pure numbers something fascinating is happening where for the first  time there are more internet connections than Indians. As per the the  Telecom Regulatory Authority of India as of November, 2019 there are a  total 661.27 million broadband subscribers (link) and as of September, 2019 for every 100 persons there exist 52 internet connections (link).  These are large numbers but underscore the continued need to connect  more people, especially in the rural parts of India to the internet.  Without internet access for more Indians, a core facility for human  existence, freedom and fulfilment will be denied to our fellow  citizens.

While we keep supporting  the efforts to connect more people to the internet, IFF's core mission  is to maintain it's quality and character. These beliefs and ideals were  early on derived from the net neutrality campaign under the banner of that was initiated by several of IFF's present and  former co-founders. At that early moment in 2015, by encouraging civic  participation through an online campaign, underscoring the public nature  of the internet, safeguarding the choice and liberty of individual  users – as well as express references to the fundamental right to  freedom of speech and expression, the campaign largely reflected  constitutional values. This culture today carries on within our work as  much as we introspect and commit to improve and be more effective.

Optimism may be misplaced given the sharp divisions of political opinion and labels applied today more than ever before. One is almost  reminded of the sharp wit of the M.R. Masani when the Objectives  Resolution to our Constitution was being moved, he stated that, "We  know that the French Revolution was made in the name of Fraternity but,  towards the end of the Revolution a cynic remarked, ‘When I saw what men did in the name of fraternity, I faced my brother but resolved to call him cousin’”.  But today is not a day to despair, it is for recommitting ourselves, in belief and practice to ensure that the core values of our constitution find place in our digital world.

Each day is a call to action

Over a year, IFF's work has strengthened on the basis of the generosity and support of many volunteers, collectives and organizations. In many ways  our advocacy has merely been a top-dressing to a richer foundation prepared with the time and labor of others. Today our mission is stronger both in our ability to do our work and cause impact due to these networks of sharing.

To  cause change over the last year IFF has done substantial institutional  engagement on issues ranging from net neutrality, free expression,  privacy and innovation. These are publicly documented on the website and  I invite you to go through them. As we grow capacity, our work will  become more technology, campaign and public centered. This is not to  say, there have not been attempts over the past year. IFF has become  better at collaborations with other individuals and organizations  primarily in the fields of community building and public talks. We would  like to believe we are contributing to greater partnership in the  domains of design, law and computer sciences which are talking to each  other more regularly than ever before.

We  have tried to swiftly respond when citizen needs have arisen on issues  such as intermediary liability, malware hacks, surveillance drones,  facial recognition and internet shutdowns. This has been followed up  with persistent representations, RTIs and even court challenges. Our  greater realization is that much of this work interacts with Government  institutions. It often requires a fresh set of regulations and by its  very nature the results are tangibly felt in the medium to long term. To  accelerate timelines, one of IFF's missions has to be to complement the  power of movements with building resilient organizational capacity.

Financial  sustainability is vital to make such policy victories a practised reality. We have approached fundraising and our expenses with, civic  legitimacy, discipline and transparency (transparency is major component of our website re-design that will roll out in May, 2020).  We have focused on implementing a model of individual giving and  recurring donations that provides five membership tiers and receives  funds only from Indians. These have helped us achieve a marginal level  of predictability in fund flows and a continuous channel of feedback and  co-ownership. All of this is a process of iteration and learning.

We  need to do more to come close to our projected revenue targets that are  accommodated by the generous buffer provided by organizational donors.  Many of them have donated to IFF after learning about our work through  our members who have championed our cause to their management. We are  thankful to each one of them, for helping us do our work independently  and even providing us an opportunity to have conversations with them to  explore how digital rights can help improve user trust in their  products.

Today, donations help fund 3 staffers, an off-counsel. Soon 2 more people will be hired to "secure"   the values of the Indian constitution as put forth in the Preamble.  All IFF volunteers, staff and leadership are guided by a sense of  urgency, recognizing that each day is a call to action to defend your  liberty, equality, fraternity and justice in our digital republic. Dr.  B. R. Ambedkar, put it best, just before the Preamble was put to vote  and adopted, “I say that this  Preamble embodies what is the desire of every member of the House that  this Constitution should have its root, its authority, its sovereignty, from the people. That it has.”

We are committed to serving everyday Indians like you.

If you would like to support our mission in 2020, I invite you to become a IFF Member today.

Apar Gupta, Executive Director

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