Bangalore, November 26 2014: IT for Change (ITfC) is an NGO, located in Bengaluru, and enjoying, Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the UN. It works for the innovative and effective use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to promote socio-economic change in the global South, from an equity, social justice and gender equality point of view.
We bring you the introductory portions of their annual report for 2014 with links to access the full report as well as key documents and presentations on the challenging socio-economic aspects of ICT today and the suggested priorities for civil society organisations.
As we look back at the decade since the World Summit on the Information Society 2003, issues of social justice and equity in the information society have become increasingly accentuated. We see a near-complete marketisation of the digital public space and a palpable anxiety of the nation-state about not being able to 'rein in' democratic forces. The result has been that the new digital means are being employed for technocratic controls rather than democratic participation.
Network society - our global, social coexistence marked by high connectivity - is here. As the Internet and the seamless open borders of the online digital space become intrinsic to and reshape social intercourse, including commerce, powerful governments and global businesses know that retaining a tight clasp to control the Internet is of paramount importance. Merchandise exports of Intellectual Property intensive industries totalled $775 billion in 2010, accounting for 60.7 percent of total U.S. merchandise exports. All developing countries are net importers of Intellectual Property, while US and UK are the largest net exporters. Control over the Internet is critical to ensuring dominance in the 'intellectual property' space. It is now also being found to be an unprecedented means of pervasive social, political and cultural control, at the most granular level.
There are many venues that testify to the hegemony of the US and its allies and to the power extraordinaire of big business in the digital arena. WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, compared Google to the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and the British spy agency, GCHQ, and asserted that “Google's business model is the spy”. He argues how Google has become “a privatized version of the NSA, collecting, storing and indexing people’s data.”
In the changing scenario of the post-Snowden world, two new developments must be noted. First is the emergence of the digital as a common-place notion, that is discussed not merely in newspaper supplements on technology, but as a here and now, 'mine and yours' type of subject. This is evident also in the debates about what comprises digital literacy and how individuals and societies may need to address their interrelationships with the digital, going beyond just a panic around privacy. In the UK, coding has become compulsory for children as young as five in schools.
Second is a push-back from some developing countries including India, that see Internet governance as an issue not only for domestic social and economic policy, but also democratic and just global governance.
In this era of post-innocence, there are some immediate priorities for civil society organisations.
We seem to see and hear much more about the magic of mobile-based liberation than about the consequences of differential digital capabilities. As someone said, today's malls are made not for the general public – they are made for segmented consumer markets so that the mall 'one kind of people' frequent is not the same as where 'the other kind' go! The digital space gets even more easily and thoroughly differntiated than the physical space. We know way too little about the social consequences of such differentiated membership in the digitally mediated social world, its sophisticated management by the market and its systematic muzzling by the state.
In India, the new government in the centre has done an about turn on its stance on the Unique Identification project. While the effective targeting of development benefits is being stated as the justification, the advent of the information state with brazen authoritarian overtones cannot be discounted.
Access without control, we have learnt from the feminist movements, is empty. The deliberate ambiguities of the discourse are kept alive by the powerful through support for new civil society formations in the global South. As influential actors propounding digital empowerment notions divested of political analysis and vision, these new formations pose challenges to progressive action. The ability of social movements in the digital arena in the global South to network, build solidarity, and call the bluff, is severely restrained by their lack of resources. It is also undermined by their complete alienation from global forums where decisions on what matters most for a democratic and equitable global future – from the nature of telecom networks, to governance of Internet protocols, regulation of commercial interests, and norms governing people's rights – are being made today.
The next few years, we believe will likely see a further whittling down of individual and collective freedoms, and a further marginalisation of people's participation in key network society arenas. But as has always been with history, hegemony meets resistance, sooner than later. We already see the emergence of national and global movements resisting these political-economic hegemonies, seeking alternatives towards a more just, equitable and democratic information society. Access Full Report here
Resources: In September 2014, IT for Change and International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada, co-organised a Round Table in Bengaluru titled 'Inclusion in the network society – mapping development alternatives, forging research agendas'. Find Individual presentations at the round table here
A backgrounder on Gender and ICTs, put together for the Post 2015 Women's Coalition.