Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) in association with Friedrich Naumann Stiftung für die Freiheit (FNF) and UNESCO India organised the second Digital Citizen Summit (DCS) in New Delhi on September 21 and 22, 2017. Supported by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and the Internet Society (ISOC), the summit was organised in the context of growing imperative for developing a multi-stakeholder dialogue platform with the objective of generating actionable policy recommendations regarding the ubiquity of digital in our everyday life.
DCS emphasised a citizen-centred perspective, discussing about intersections of online and offline spaces created by us and further aimed at promoting human rights online. In order to achieve this, the summit aspired to provide a platform for building strategic partnerships between citizens and other relevant stakeholders comprising scholars, researchers, academics, civil society organisations, and government representatives.
The two-day summit saw participants from 10 Asia Pacific countries and a gathering of more than 200 stakeholders representing CSOs, technologists and policy changers. The summit was divided into a series of parallel sessions organised along the four key summit themes: Access, Privacy, Freedom of Expression, and Digital Literacy and Empowerment.
The summit witnessed a range of sessions - organised and hosted by a wide network of organisations, groups, companies and institutions - covering topics of connecting the last mile, restrictions on freedom of expression online, network shutdowns, right to privacy and data protection, gender and sexuality in online spaces, mobile campaigns for social good, sustainability of alternate models of connectivity, accessibility of technology, legal rights online, and secure communications, among others. The overall objective was to find solutions to provide as many with the means to access information and bridge the digital divide, and to create a platform for youth, women and social media enthusiasts to raise awareness about Internet rights, digital literacy, and digital security.
Some key highlights and recommendation from Digital Citizen Summit 2017 are:
Defining the digital: Internet architecture rests on collaboration and sharing, and this nature should be preserved and promoted in drives to go digital. Such drives must emphasise ambitions towards citizenship rather than appropriation. However, while the digital offers many exciting and new opportunities for the exercise of rights, citizenship should not be reduced to the digital. The digital must be promoted with view to preventing real-world exclusions of the poor and marginalised from being reproduced online. The promotion of the digital should espouse the ideals of citizenship, which is rights-based and inclusive.
Defining citizenship: The goal of citizenship should be making States accountable. Thus, the exercise of citizenship should not be passive but an active one, and must be aimed at promotion everyone’s rights. In India, the structure of the State already provides many avenues for demanding accountability. Therefore, citizens must demand for and access systems of accountability, appeal, and redress.
Nature of solutions: Solutions to many problems relating to the exercise of human rights online may be legal or nonlegal. Nonlegal solutions may be individual, community-based, or led by civil society or private sector organisations, and partnerships among them. The solutions adopted must be context-appropriate, multi-pronged, and involve different kinds of partnerships rather than one stop shop solutions to each problem. For instance, social and attitudinal problems preventing women and girls from accessing technology could be community-based, while solutions to regulate search engines could be both legal and market-based.
Governance systems: We must aspire to build systems of governance that are democratic, i.e., which enable citizens’ right to information and emphasise State disclosure; rather than autocratic which focuses on information surveillance and data gathering at the cost of citizens’ rights. The governance systems we design should emphasise proportionality, and involve only minimal violation of rights.
Overcoming challenges to going digital: Governments across the world have initiated huge drives to go digital and integrate technology. However, significant challenges remain, especially in developing countries. These challenges may be infrastructural, political, or societal. In terms of infrastructure, digital drives would be inadequate without improving and making accessible other basic infrastructure, such as reliable electricity. In political terms, digital drives are meaningless in countries inclining towards greater censorship and network shutdowns. In societal and attitudinal terms, the case of India and other countries shows that marginalised social groups such as women face many barriers to accessing online platforms. We must ensure that everyone has equal opportunities in the digital.
DEF is grateful to all participating groups and networks, and would like to extend thanks to all session hosts: The Dialogue, Gram of IIT Mumbai, CUTS International, AlterMundi, Foundation for Media Alternatives, Society for Rehabilitation of the Visually Challenged, Hidden Pockets, Amnesty International India, Center for Social Activism, Bytes for All (in absentia), Feminism in India, F-infotech, Point of View, MediaNama, SFLC, Internet Democracy Project, Centre for Communication Governance of National Law University of Delhi