Institute for Internet & Society 2014, Pune

Last month, activists, journalists, researchers, and members of civil society came together at the 2014 Institute for Internet & Society in Pune, which was hosted by CIS and funded by the Ford Foundation. The Institute was a week long, in which participants heard from speakers from various backgrounds on issues arising out of the intersection of internet and society, such as intellectual property, freedom of expression, and accessibility, to name a few. Below is an official reporting summarizing sessions that took place.

Day One

February 11, 2014

Time

Detail

9.30 a.m. – 9.40 a.m.

Introduction: Sunil Abraham, Executive Director Centre for Internet and Society

10.00 a.m. – 10.15 a.m.

Introduction of Participants

10.15 a.m. – 12.00 p.m.

Internet Governance and Privacy: Sunil Abraham

12.00 p.m. – 12.30 p.m.

Tea-break

12.30 p.m. – 1.00 p.m.

Keynote: Bishakha Datta, Filmmaker and Activist, and Board Member, Wikimedia Foundation

1.00 p.m. – 2.00 p.m.

Lunch

1.30 p.m. – 3.00 p.m.

Participant Presentations

3.00 p.m. – 3.15 p.m.

Tea Break

3.15 p.m. – 4.45 p.m.

Histories, Bodies and Debates around the Internet: Nishant Shah, Director-Research, CIS

This year’s Internet Institute, hosted by the Centre for Internet & Society (CIS), kicked off in Pune to put a start to a week of learnings and discussions surrounding internet usage and its implications on individuals of society. Twenty two attendees from all over India attended this year, from backgrounds of activism, journalism, research and advocacy work.

Attendees were welcomed by Dr. Ravina Aggarwal, Program Officer for Media Rights & Access at the Ford Foundation, the event’s sponsor, who started off the day by introducing the Foundation’s initiatives in pursuit of bridging the digital divide by addressing issues of internet connectivity.

Each of these stories has one major thing in common: due to their nature of taking place over the internet, they are not confined to one geographic location and in turn, are addressed at the international level. The way by which an issue as such is to be addressed cuts across State policies and internet intermediary bodies to create quite a messy case in trying to determine who is at fault. Such complexity illustrates how challenging internet governance can be within today’s society that is no longer restricted to national or geographic boundaries.

Sunil also goes on in explaining the relationship between privacy, transparency, and power, summing it up in a simple formula; privacy protection should have a reverse relationship to power—the more the power, the less the privacy one should be entitled to. On the contrary, a direct correlation goes for power and transparency—the more the power, the more transparent a body should be. Instead of thinking about these concepts as a dichotomy, Sunil suggests to see them as absolute rights in themselves—instrumental in policies and necessary to address power imbalances.

The Web We Want, Bishakha Datta
The Institute’s kickoff was also joined by Indian filmmaker and activist, Bishakha Datta, who had delivered the keynote address. Bishakha bridged together notions of freedom of speech, surveillance, and accessibility, while introducing campaigns that work to create an open and universally accessible web, such as the Web We Want and Sexuality and Disability. Bishakha stresses how the internet as a space has altered how we experience societal constructs, which can be easily exhibited in how individuals experience Facebook in the occurrence of a death, for example. Bishakha initiated discussion among participants by posing questions such as, “what is our expectation of privacy in this brave new world?” and “what is the society we want?” to encompass the need to think of privacy in a new way with the coming of the endless possibilities the internet brings with it.

Histories, Bodies and Debates around the Internet, Nishant Shah
CIS Research Director, Nishant Shah, led a session examining internet as a technology more broadly, and our understandings of it in relation to the human body. Nishant proposes the idea that history is a form of technology, as well as time, itself, for which our understanding only comes into being with the aid of technologies of measurement. Although we are inclined to separate technology from the self, Nishant challenges this notion while suggesting that technology is very integral to being human, and defines a “cyborg” as someone who is very intimate with technology. In this way, we are all cyborgs. While making reference to several literary pieces, including Haraway’s Cyborg: Human, Animus, Technology; Kevin Warwick’s Living Cyborg; and Watt’s small world theory, Nishant challenges participants’ previous notions of how one is to understand technology in relation to oneself, as well as the networks we find ourselves implicated within.

Also brought forth by Nishant, was the fact that the internet as a technology has become integral to our identities, making us accessible (rather than us solely making the technology accessible) through online forms of documentation. This digital phenomenon in which we tend to document what we know and experience as a means of legitimizing it can be summed in the modern version of an old fable: “If a tree falls in a lonely forest, and nobody tweets it, has it fallen?”

Nishant refers to several case studies in which the use of online technologies has created a sense of an extension of the self and one’s personal space; which can then be subject to violation as one can be in the physical form, and to the same emotional and psychological effect—as illustrated within the 1993 occurrence referred to as “A Rape in Cyberspace.”

Attendee Participation
Participants remained engaged and enthusiastic for the duration of the day, bringing forth their personal expertise and experiences. Several participants presented their own research initiatives, which looked at issues women face as journalists and as portrayed by the media; amateur pornography without the consent of the woman; study findings on the understandings of symptoms of internet addiction; as well as studies looking at how students engage with college confession pages on Facebook.


Day Two

February 12, 2014

Time

Detail

9.30 a.m. – 11.00 a.m.

Wireless Technology: Ravikiran Annaswamy, CEO and Co-founder at Teritree Technologies

11.00 a.m. – 11.15 a.m.

Tea-break

11.15 a.m. – 12.45 p.m.

Wired Technology: Ravikiran Annaswamy

12.45 p.m. – 1.30 p.m.

Lunch

1.30 p.m. – 3.00 p.m.

Network, Threats and Securing Yourself: Kingsley John, Independent Consultant

3.00 p.m. – 3.15 p.m.

Tea Break

3.15 p.m. – 4.45 p.m.

Practical Lab: Kingsley John

4.45 p.m. – 5.00 p.m.

Wrap-up: Sunil Abraham

Network, Threats and Securing Yourself, Kinglsey John
An instructional session on how to protect oneself was given by Kingsley John, beginning with a lesson on IP Addresses—what they are and the different generations of such, and how IP addresses fit into a broader internet network. Following, Kingsley demonstrated and explained email encryption through the use of software, Kleopatra, and how it may be used to generate keys to encrypt emails through Thunderbird mail client.

Evening Discussion

A handful of participants voluntarily partook in an evening discussion, looking at the role of big players in the global internet network, such as Google and Facebook, how they collect and utilize users’ data, and what sorts of measures can be taken to minimize the collecting of such. Due to the widely varying backgrounds of interest among participants, those coming from this technical orientation towards the internet were able to inform their peers on relevant information and types of software that may be found useful related to minimizing one’s online presence.


Day Three

February 13, 2014

Time

Detail

9.30 a.m. – 11.00 a.m.

Free Software: Prof. G. Nagarjuna, Chairperson, Free Software Foundation

11.00 a.m. – 11.15 a.m.

Tea-break

11.15 a.m. – 12.45 p.m.

Open Data: Nisha Thompson, Independent Consultant

12.45 p.m. – 1.30 p.m.

Lunch

1.30 p.m. – 3.00 p.m.

Freedom of Expression: Bhairav Acharya, Advocate and Adviser, Centre for Internet and Society

3.00 p.m. – 3.15 p.m.

Tea-break

3.15 p.m. – 4.45 p.m.

Copyright: Nehaa Chaudhari, Program Officer, Centre for Internet and Society

The third day of the Internet Institute incorporated themes presented by speakers ranging from free software, to freedom of expression, to copyright.

Free Software, Prof. G. Nagarjuna
Chairman on the Board of Directors for the Free Software Foundation of India, Professor G. Nagarjuna shared with the Institute’s participants his personal expertise on software freedom. Nagarjuna mapped for us the network of concepts related to software freedom, beginning with the origins of the copyleft movement, and also touching upon the art of hacking, the open source movement, and what role software freedom plays in an interconnected world.

Nagarjuna looks at the free software movement as a political movement in the digital space highlighting the user’s freedoms associated to the use, distribution, and modification of software for the greater good for all. This is said to distinguish this movement from that of Open Source—a technical and more practical development-oriented movement. The free software movement is not set out to compromise the fundamental issues for the sake of being practical and in that sense, ubiquitous. Instead, its objective is “not to make everybody use the software, but to have them understand why they are using the software,” so that they may become “authentic citizens that can also resonate why they’re doing what they’re doing. We want them to understand the ethical and political aspects of doing so,” Nagarjuna says.

Open Data, Nisha Thompson
Participants learned from Nisha Thompson on Open Data; what it is, its benefits, and how it is involved in central government initiatives and policy, as well as civil society groups—generally for uses such as serving as evidence for decision making and accountability. Nisha explored challenges concerning the use of open data, such as those pertaining to privacy, legitimacy, copyright, and interoperability. The group looked at the India Water Portal as a case study, which makes accessible more than 300 water-related datasets already available in the public space for use from anything from sanitation and agriculture to climate change.

Freedom of Expression, Bhairav Acharya
Bhairav Acharya, a constitutional lawyer, traced the development of the freedom of speech and expression in India. Beginning with a conceptual understanding of censorship and the practice of censorship by the state, society, and the individual herself, Bhairav examines the limits traditionally placed by a nation-state on the right to free speech.

In India, modern free speech and censorship law was first formulated by the colonial British government, which broadly imported the common law to India. However, the colonial state also yielded to the religious and communitarian sensitivities of its subjects, resulting in a continuing close link between communalism and free speech in India today. After Independence, the post-colonial Indian state carried forward Raj censorship, but tweaked it to serve to a nation-building and developmental agenda. Nation-building and nationalism are centrifugal forces that attempt to construct a homogenous 'mainstream'; voices from the margins of this mainstream (the geographical, ethnic, and religious peripheries) and of the marginalised within the mainstream (the poor and disadvantaged), are censored.

Within this narrative, Bhairav located and explained the evolution of the law relating to press censorship, defamation, obscenity, and contempt of court. Free speech law applies equally online. Broadly, censorship on the internet must survive the same constitutional scrutiny that is applied to offline censorship; but, as technology develops, the law must innovate.

Copyright, Nehaa Chaudhari
CIS Programme Officer, Nehaa Chaudhari examined the concept of Copyright as an intellectual property right in discussing its fundamentals, purpose and origins, and Copyright’s intersection with the internet. Nehaa also explained the different exceptions to Copyright, along with its alternatives, such as opposing intellectual property protection regimes, including the Creative Commons and Copyleft. Within this session, Nehaa also introduced several cases in which Copyright came into play with the use of the internet, including Hunter Moore’s “Is Anyone Up?” website, which had showcased pornographic pictures obtained by submission bringing rise to the phenomenon of “revenge porn.” Instances as such blur the lines of what is commonly referred to as intellectual property, and what specific requirements enables one to own the rights to such.


Day Four

February 14, 2014

Time

Detail

9.30 a.m. – 11.00 a.m.

E-Accessibility and Inclusion: Prashant Naik, Union Bank

11.00 a.m. – 11.15 a.m.

Tea-break

11.15 a.m. – 12.45 p.m.

Patents: Nehaa Chaudhari

12.45 p.m. – 1.30 p.m.

Lunch

1.30 p.m. – 2.00 p.m.

Fieldwork Assignment

Patents, Nehaa Chaudhari
Nehaa Chaudhari
led a second session at the Internet Institute on intellectual property rights—this one looking at patents particularly and their role within statutory law. Nehaa traced the historical origins of patents before examining the fundamentals of them, and addresses the questions, “Why have patents? And is the present system working for everyone?” Nehaa also introduced notions of the Commons along with the Anticommons, and perspectives within the debate around software patents, as well as different means by which the law can address the exploitation of patents or “patent thickets”—such as through patent pools or compulsory licensing.

Fieldwork Assignment, Groupwork
Participants were split into groups and required to carry out a mini fieldwork assignment in approaching individuals in varying public spaces in Pune in attempts to collect primary data. Questions asked to individuals were to be devised by the group, so long as they pertained to themes examined within the Internet Institute. Areas visited by groups included the Pune Central Mall, MG Road, and FC Road.


Day Five

February 15, 2014

Time

Detail

9.30 a.m. – 11.00 a.m.

E-Governance: Manu Srivastav, Vice President, eGovernments Foundation

11.00 a.m. – 11.15 a.m.

Tea-break

11.15 a.m. – 12.45 p.m.

Market Concerns: Payal Malik, Economic Adviser, Competition Commission of India

12.45 p.m. – 1.30 p.m.

Lunch

1.30 p.m. – 3.00 p.m.

Digital Natives: Nishant Shah

3.00 p.m. – 3.15 p.m.

Tea-break

3.15 p.m. – 4.45 p.m.

Fieldwork Presentations

Market Concerns, Payal Malik
Payal Malik, Advisor of the Economics Division of the Competition Commission of India shared her knowledge on market concerns of the telecommunications industry, and exclaimed the importance of competition issues in such an industry as a tool to create greater good for a greater number of people. She demonstrated this importance by stating that affordability as a product of increased access can only be possible once there is enough investment, which generally only happens in a competitive market. In this way, we must set the conditions to make competition possible, as a tool to achieve certain objectives. Payal also demonstrated the economic benefits of telecommunications by stating that for every 10% increase in broadband penetration, increase in GDP of 1.3%. She also examined the broadband ecosystem in India and touched upon future possibilities of increased broadband penetration, such as for formers and the education sector.

Digital Natives, Nishant Shah
Nishant Shah shed some light on one of the areas that the Centre for Internet & Society looks at within their research scope, this being the “Digital Native.” As referred to by Nishant, the Digital Native is not to categorize a specific type of internet user, but can be said for simply any person who is performing a digital action, while doing away with this false dichotomy of age, location, and geography.

Nishant examines varying case studies in which “the digital is empowering natives to not merely be benefactors of change, but agents of change,” from the Blank Noise Project’s “I NEVER Ask for it…” campaign in efforts to rethink sexual violence, to Matt Harding’s foolish dancing with groups of individuals from all over the world.

As occurrences in the digital realm, however, these often political expressions may be rewritten by the network when picked up as a growing phenomenon, in order to make it accessible to online consumers by the masses. In doing so, the expression is removed from its political context and is presented in the form of nothing more than a fad. For this reason, Nishant stresses the need to become aware of the potential of the internet in becoming an “echo-chamber”—in which forms of expression are amplified and mimicked, resulting in a restructuring of the dynamics surrounding the subject—whether it be videos of boys lipsyncing to Backstreet Boys in their dorm room going viral, or a strong and malicious movement to punish the Chinese girl who had taken a video of her heinously and wickedly killing a kitten after locating her using the Human Flesh Search Engine.

Fieldwork Presentations, Groupwork

To end off the day, participant groups presented findings collated from the prior evening’s fieldwork exercise, in which they were to ask strangers in various public places of Pune questions pertaining to themes looked at from within this year’s Institute. Participants were divided into four groups and visited Pune’s FC Road, Mahatma Gandhi Road, and Central Mall.

Groups found that the majority of those interviews primarily accessed the phone via the mobile. There was also a common weariness of using the internet and concern for one’s privacy while doing so, especially with uploading photos to Facebook and online financial transactions. People were also generally concerned about using cyber cafes for fear of one’s accounts being hacked. Generally people suspected that so long as conversations are “private” (i.e. in one’s Facebook inbox), so too are they secure. Just as well, those interviewed shared a sense of security with the use of a password.


Day Six

February 16, 2014

Time

Detail

9.30 a.m. – 11.00 a.m.

Wikipedia: Dr. Abhijeet Safai

11.00 a.m. – 11.15 a.m.

Tea-break

11.15 a.m. – 12.45 p.m.

Open Access: Muthu Madhan (TBC)

12.45 p.m. – 1.30 p.m.

Lunch

1.30 p.m. – 3.00 p.m.

Case Studies Groupwork

3.00 p.m. – 3.15 p.m.

Tea-break

3.15 p.m. – 4.45 p.m.

Case Studies Presentations

As the Institute came closer to its end, participants got the opportunity to hear from speakers on topics pertaining the Wikipedia editing in addition to Open Access to scholarly literature.  Participants also worked together in groups to examine specific case studies referenced in previous sessions, and then presented their conclusions.

Wikipedia, Dr. Abhijeet Safai
The Institute was joined by Medical Officer of Clinical Research at Pune’s Symbiosis Centre of Health Care, Dr. Abhijeet Safai, who led a session on Wikipedia. Having edited over 3700 Wikipedia articles, Dr. Abhijeet was able to bring forth his expertise and familiarity in editing Wikipedia to participants so that they would be able to do the same. Introduced within this session were Wikipedia’s different fundamental pillars and codes of conducts to be complied with by all contributors, along with different features and components of Wikipedia articles that one should be aware of when contributing, such as how to cite sources and discuss the contents of an article with other contributors.

Open Access, Muthu Madhan
Muthu Madhan joined the Internet Institute while speaking on Open Access (OA) to scholarly literature. Within his session, Muthu examined the historical context within which the scholarly journal had arisen and how the idea of Open Access began within this space. The presence of Open Access in India and other developing nations was also examined in this session, and the concept of Open Data, introduced.

Case Studies, Groupworks

Participants were split up into groups and assigned particular case studies looked at briefly in previous sessions. Case studies included #thingsdarkiessay, a once trending Twitter hashtag in South Africa which had offended many Americans for its use of “darkie” as a derogatory term; the literary novel, The Hindus, which offers an alternative narrative of Hindu history had been banned in India for obscenity; a case in which several users’ avatars had been controlled by another in a virtual community and forced to perform sexual acts, referred to as A Rape Happened in Cyber Space; and lastly, a pornographic submission website, Is Anyone Up?, for which content was largely derived from “revenge porn.” Each group then presented on the various perspectives surrounding the issue at hand.

The Cyborg, Nishant Shah
Nishant Shah led an off-agenda session in the evening looking more closely at the notion of the human cyborg. Nishant deconstructs humanity’s relationship to technology, in suggesting that we “think of the human as produced with the technologies… not who produces technology.” Nishant explores the Digital Native as an attained identity for those who, because of technology, restructure and reinvent his or her environment—offline as well as online. Among other ideas shared, Nishant refers to works by Haraway on the human cyborg in illustrating our dependency on technology and our need to care for these technologies we depend on.


Day Seven

February 17, 2014

Time

Detail

9.30 a.m. – 11.00 a.m.

Internet Activism: Laura Stein, Associate Professor, University of Texas and Fulbright Fellow

11.00 a.m. – 11.15 a.m.

Tea-break

11.15 a.m. – 12.45 p.m.

Domestic and International Bodies: Chinmayi Arun, Research Director

12.45 p.m. – 1.30 p.m.

Lunch

1.30 p.m. – 3.00 p.m.

Participant Presentations

3.00 p.m. – 3.15 p.m.

Tea-break

3.15 p.m. – 4.45 p.m.

Hot Question Challenge

The last day of the week-long Internet Institute examined concepts of Internet Activism and Domestic and International Bodies. Some participants led presentations on topics of personal familiarity, before a final wrap-up exercise, calling upon individuals to share any new formulations resulting from the Institute.

Internet Activism, Laura Stein

Domestic and International Bodies, Chinmayi Arun
As the Internet Institute’s final speaker, Research Director for Communication Governance at National Law University , Chinmayi Arun, explores the network of factors that affect one’s behavior on the internet—these including: social norms, the law, the markets, and architecture. In referring to Lawrence Lessig’s pathetic dot theory, Chinmayi illustrates how individual’s—the pathetic dots in question—are functions of the interactions of these factors, and in this sense, regulated, and stresses the essential need to understand the system, in order to effectively change the dynamics within it. It is worth noting that not all pathetic dots are equal, and Google’s dot, for example, will be drastically bigger than a single user’s, having more leveraging power within the network of internet bodies. Also demonstrated, is the fact that we must acknowledge the need for regulation by the law to some extent, otherwise, the internet would be a black box where anything goes, putting one’s security at risk of violation.

Hot Question Challenge
The very last exercise of the Institute entailed participants asking each other questions on demand, relating back to different themes looked at within the last week. Participants had the chance, here, to bridge together concepts across sessions, as well as formulate their own opinions, while posing questions to others that they, themselves, were still curious about.

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Author

Samantha Cassar

Samantha is from the University of Toronto, and has been undertaking preliminary policy research for the Centre for Internet & Society looking at the legal aspects of India's mobile app ecosystem to better enable developers within it. Her research has involved interviews with mobile app developers and other community members, as well as a nation-wide industry survey on legal practices within mobile app development.