The Internet has been the single most disruptive technology phenomenon of our times. In just a matter of years, human civilisation has been transformed in the way that we spread information, access entertainment and communicate. Over the years, it has evolved in wonderful and unpredictable ways because of its free and open nature. Now, its very foundation is being threatened by governments and private interests around the world who seek to control change rather than adapt to it.
This is because the all-powerful Internet has in recent times allowed the voices of common people to be heard in ways never possible before—in some cases, to express political dissent, while in others, to express dissatisfaction with corporate greed. Unlike traditional media that can be controlled or punished relatively easily, the nature and scope of the Internet poses a challenge to censors and private interests alike. Bills proposing to censor the Internet are mushrooming in almost every country. It’s being done in the name of curbing piracy, eliminating child pornography, upholding national security, combating terrorism and organised crime etc., all of which sound like noble causes. While measures against such things are necessary, the steps proposed will also gravely undermine and impose restrictions on an individual's use of Internet as we know it.
These measures have been decried by advocates of democracy and free speech, and there are many organisations around the world striving for online freedom. Here we have featured some of them.
Electronic Frontier Foundation
EFF prides itself as the first line of defence when online freedom is threatened
Established in 1990, U.S. based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) prides itself as the first line of defence when online freedom is threatened. It consists of a blend of lawyers, activists, technologists and analysts who defend digital rights on behalf of the people in the court of law. It acts as a watchdog against bad policies that potentially endanger the online freedom. EFF was successful in exposing the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), a secretive multi-national pact that could have severely curtailed online freedom. Apart from this, EFF also successfully spearheaded the campaign against bills like Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA). These bills, if enacted, would give the authority to blacklist sites accused of copyright infringement without any proof. To protest against these bills, EFF in-conjunction with several other online activists initiated a campaign that was supported by several major sites, as they blacked out their site in protest. You can sign-up with EFF and stay updated about the latest happenings around the world. You can also take part in its online initiatives and make a donation as well. EFF also provides support and advice to organisations and individuals in countries that practice Internet censorship.
The Centre for Internet & Society
CIS is an Indian organisation that has been spreading awareness about digital rights
The Centre for Internet & Society, based in Bangalore, is one such organisation in India that focuses on concerns of the digital world. It undertakes policy and academic research in the field of Internet and studies its relationship with the society – the political, social and cultural context. It has been very vocal about the attempts of the Indian Government to censor the Internet and undertook several initiatives to create public awareness to demand a policy change. In partnership with Google India, it conducted the Google Policy Fellowship 2011. Rishabh Dara, who was selected as a Fellow, presented a paper about the IT Rules 2011. As a part of the study, he sent takedown notices to seven prominent intermediaries and studied the action taken by them. The results showed that six out of the seven intermediaries took down the content without proper judgment about whether it was necessary. This could be because they find taking down the content easier than being dragged to court for non-compliance. This successfully exposed the major flaw in the rules and showed just how easily it can be used to censor the Internet.
You may not agree with its methods, but Anonymous has been working for Internet freedom for several years
You may not agree with its ways, but Anonymous has taken a stand against censorship in different parts of the world. A group of hacktivists, it was established somewhere around 2003 and, as the name suggests, the members remain anonymous. During public demonstrations, they wear Guy Fawkes masks, which is now strongly associated with Anonymous and has become its public identity. The members of Anonymous come together and make use of several Internet forums to collaborate. The group is against Internet censorship and targets official government sites by distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks or by defacing its webpages. Most prominent amongst its activities include Project Chanology – to protest against the Church of Scientology. Anonymous was irked by the Church's attempt to remove a video interview of Tom Cruise extolling the virtues of scientology. Citing it as an instance of Internet censorship, Anonymous released a warning video on YouTube in 2008 and followed it up with DDoS attacks to hinder the operations of Scientology. More recently, Anonymous made news by its activities to protest Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that brought down sites of FBI, U.S. Justice Department, Motion Pictures Association of America and many others. Anonymous also made its presence felt in India in May this year owing to Indian Governments increased attempts at Internet censorship. In the line of fire were the sites of Supreme Court of India, Indian National Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party. You can get updates about the activities of the group on the site Anonnews.
Internet Defense League
It's a non-profit group, Fight for the Future, in collaboration with the founder of Reddit, Alexis Ohanian
The Internet Defense League was established by Fight for the Future, a non-profit group, in collaboration with the founder of Reddit, Alexis Ohanian. The idea of a site came about after the far-spread protest of SOPA bill. The League realised the need for sustained efforts in case of future attempts to censor Internet in the form of various bills. The Internet Defense League has developed a ‘cat signal’, much like the ‘bat signal’, to act as an alert signal during a need for action. How it works is—the websites who have signed-up with them will need to add a code to their site or opt to receive an alert over email. When the alert is sounded, there will be a widget or a banner displayed on the site urging people to take action. It could range from boycott, signing petitions or even black-out. Even bloggers can be a part of this initiative. The idea is to mobilise thousands of people in a short span of time. The sites that have signed up so far include the likes of Mozilla, WordPress, Reddit, CraigConnect, EFF, AccessNow, GrooveShark and many more.
Access Now has a contest you can be a part of
Access Now is a U.S. based organisation that is striving for online freedom, globally. The organisation was established in 2009 post the conflict that arose in Iran during the Presidential elections. It brings together organisations, individuals, activists and institutions from around the world to work towards addressing Internet censorship issues. It empowers people, making them aware of their digital rights, and provides them with necessary guidance to fight their cause. It runs several campaigns that you can be a part of; you can browse through the various campaigns undertaken around the world and then digitally sign the petition marking your support. Besides this, it also has a contest – the Access Innovation Prize that will award prize money to individuals, organisations or networks that put forth the best actionable ideas and make use of information technology to promote human rights in their respective countries. They have the option to use an existing tool or present something completely new.
Are there any other organisations, fighting for Internet freedom, that you are aware of? Do let us know.
Main Image: Getty Images
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