NEW DELHI: The ninth Internet Governance Forum (IGF) took off in Istanbul on Tuesday to discuss the way forward for the internet. India has a substantial presence at the forum with representatives from civil society, government and even business in attendance.
But interestingly, on Sept 4 and 5, the same city will also witness a parallel Internet Ungovernance Forum (IUF) “unconference” where discussions will centre on online surveillance and censorship. Organisers say that out of the 250 registrants so far, 10 are from India.
At the heart of the contrasting meet ups is a raging debate on censorship. Turkish activists also disapprove of the way IGF functions.
Mishi Choudhary, legal director at the Software Freedom and Law Center (SFLC) says she would be attending the IUF to show solidarity. “Global civil society must support local efforts and join forces to criticize actions of suppressive regimes to prevent free flow of information,” she says.
The IUF website, organised by a group of Turkish activists, states the issues thus: “We see that at IGF the most urgent problems of the Internet do not get the right attention. Due to the ‘multi-stakeholderism’ format, the main perpetrators of many of the Internet’s problems, governments and corporations, are getting representation in IGF they don’t deserve. Given these circumstances, we decided to take initiative to defend the Internet as we know it and to create a space to raise the voices of civil society initiatives, activists and common people.”
Turkey has seen a slew of online censorship measures in recent times. The latest one was in March 2014 following a high level leak on the video-sharing website. “A lot of workshops proposed by the Turkish activists who are facing immense free speech problems were not approved. Only one was. There are problems with the way the government crackdowns on internet works and IGF does little to address them. More than 30,000 websites are blocked…and the reason for blocking are political,” explains Choudhary.
Anja Kovacs, who heads the research and advocacy platform Internet Democracy Project, agrees that issues of censorship “could have more detailed treatment” at the IGF. However, she says the blame can’t be put squarely on the IGF. “Last year, surveillance was put on the agenda of one of the main sessions of the forum. Yet when comments were invited from the floor, these surprisingly remained relatively mild,” points out Kovacs, who will also be attending the “ungovernance” forum.
“What we want to achieve is the creation of alternative forums where states and corporations do not have a dominant position. We would regard ourselves as successful if forums like ours become institutionalized in future,” says Melih Kirlidog, one of the IUF organisers, adding that the internet is “fast becoming a dystopia of censorship and surveillance and governments and large corporations are responsible for this.”