What technical projects should IFF plan for, or take up immediately?

IFF has principally been viewed as a policy oriented organization. This is not without reason. Many of our early hires (including me) come from a legal background and our strategic litigations have had sizeable impact. This is more just to practical realities of availability of resources which as they have grown now includes specific staff on the community and communications roles (aint, @Shivani and @farkhanda just doing a stellar job?).

The intended vision as set out by the board and IFF’s charter has always been towards technology development and also policy interventions that proceed from a firm understanding of product architecture. While we have been successful in implementing the later relying on our trustees @aravind and @karthik, product development requires staff capacity and an organizational culture we are looking to grow in time. To begin this journey as we set out in the last quarterly call we are building two transparency and public advocacy projects (Zombie Tracker for Section 66A Cases in partnership with Civic Data Labs and Project Panoptic for Facial Recognition Projects with volunteers from DataKind, Bangalore).

At present we have regular interest expressed by a large number of developers to help out IFF. To plan this out better and a get a sense from our community, we want to ask you three questions:

  1. What IFF can do right now?

  2. How should IFF go about this? How do we work with tech side volunteers?

  3. What should we plan for the future?

Do let us know, with thoughts both on tangible outputs as well as methods of working with a large number of developers who are indicating interest in volunteering for projects. We are open to models of contribution and creating work groups, specific offers to volunteer and also designing our medium to long term programme based on your feedback.

As a special request also looking forward to inputs from @rushabh

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Hi @aparatbar!
Can you please shed more light on why does IFF want to go into building software? I have few pointers on this:

First, the two projects mentioned above Zombie Tracker and Face Recognition already exists and we have seen the misuse in the form of Drone recordings for identification in recent times in Delhi. Telangna is going way overboard with FR tech, mostly targeting people with low income and some of which people keep posting about on Twitter. Govts all over India has been using Section 66A for filing sedition charges against individuals which is gross misuse of the act and cases under it are in contradiction with Freedom of Speech. With all this, one thing is very clear that no matter how sophisticated our tech becomes it is a matter of political conscience and sadly, I don’t see Indian political sphere having a good one. You can call it the immaturity but I see it as a classic case of power abuse. All the tools are being deployed to suppress dissent at the moment. There aren’t enough guardrails to protect individual and their rights. More over, even if the protection is guaranteed by law then also there is a good chance of being altered which happened with Aadhaar over time and it became voluntary mandatory.

Second, I want to share my concern with the step. I really liked that IFF took a legal route to solving the problems tech is creating which in turn is pushing the teams/orgs to build the better tech or enable the alternatives. My concern is based up on what happened with iSpirit. The organisation started as the representative for the tech (startup) industry and ended up creating Aadhaar and other projects. Few people were able to leverage their position in that organisation and with the govt. and built up projects with far reaching consequences.

My first question and answer to the third question, what stops this from happening with IFF?
How does IFF plan to put guardrails around, which keeps user’s privacy on the top even in the case of govt demand? For example, Apple denied unlocking the phone in a case in US. Will IFF take the similar stand then?
Doesn’t this contradict the position of IFF as a policy oriented org with the software building org? How will it draw lines for itself or course correct?

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Chipping in some thoughts from the top of my head:

I’d like to see a dashboard which is publicly hosted and provides a quick and easy visualisation of how we are performing as a country on the various factors that affect individual freedoms and privacy.
What the top level constituent elements should be for this dashboard, I leave to the legal and policy heads here to define. The techies can help mine the public data sources, and setup the dashboard.
It is also important that the dashboard brings together publicly available facts, and doesn’t reflect any potentially debatable and controversial opinion. To take one example of this, it can perhaps have one metric for the extent and distribution for 66A use (which is factual), without getting into what part of it (if not all!) is subjectively inappropriate.

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Another possible thing to work on is making all of the documentation accessible in other languages, especially South Indian languages. I’m from Bangalore and I can safely vouch for the fact that there are very few policy oriented places here (forget those involved in privacy and surveillance issues!)

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I am not a part of IFF (yet), but I am working on a decentralized content platform. The database is built on top of IPFS, and the users can tip their posters in Ether. I’d love to work with IFF if this is something you want to look into.

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I think what @aparatbar meant is to build tools/projects that can help the community as a whole and/or maybe start an open source movement around the same. Like what EFF does with its projects. Correct me if I’m wrong.

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How about an IFF supported, open source browser plugin?. With this we can collect stats about blocked websites, and also build privacy features for an Indian context.

I just checked that sflc does this with https://internetshutdowns.in/ which is powered by https://ooni.org/ but it does not seem very sophisticated.

Also such a plugin can also be a source of collecting complaints etc that can be forwarded to the relevant regulators if the bans are arbitrary or illegal.

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Hello.
One issue that most people face is that of privacy policy of any new service they subscribe to. Most of these policies are long and written in a way most people don’t read it. My idea is that there should be an app or browser plugin that gives a summary of the privacy policy in ‘simple’ English along with a score based on level of privacy, data collection, anonymization etc.

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This. Tools that work in the Indian context built for everyone are definitely something to focus on. In addition to this, building awareness about IFF and privacy rights in general should be a goal in my opinion.

Very few people in India (me included) really understand what their rights are when it comes to the Internet and their digital footprint; even lesser understand what should they do if they end up in the crosshairs of the law for something they posted online. Educating people on these topics will help raise awareness and bring more people to IFF as well. It could be in the form of podcasts, video explainers or something else that people can consume quickly from the IFF website itself.

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I found a empty repository for a IFF project named Watchdog. Watchdog Repo
Whats the status of this one?

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Yeah this was something I was looking at doing, serves the same function as https://ooni.org, but with more granular data on a per-ISP/region/circle, plus with a test-list that we can maintain.

The idea was to build an open framework so others can write “workers” to do the testing, whether that’s a browser plugin, android API, raspberry pi, etc.

Work sort of stopped due to me and @aravind both having other commitments, I think the project is still viable if we have some folks tech folks help restart development. We can push this data back to ooni as well.

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Yes. My first understanding of the post was a bit incorrect but my concern still stands even if it is too far-fetched. I see IFF as policy based org than a tech based.

IMO IFF should start with posting README or Whitepaper for the tech projects it wants to create for discussion. Tech folks in the org. can help in conceptualizing the projects and build requirements. These projects should then be open for development for the open source community and I believe there are enough folks on the forum who can kickstart a couple of projects. Although, the timelines could take a hit as development is purely on the voluntary basis. In that case, hiring a couple of tech folks on contract basis is one way to solve the problem.

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I’m a new IFF member, bringing 5 years of tech experience in building AI-powered products. I would love to be involved in such a project. If we can round up 2-3 folks at least, we can start the ideation and planning at least.

Make such a project that the server’s data must be saved only on his/her device,so we can user’s are not stored in companies database.

We can make onboard volenteer student representative for Universities who will inform the other students about their internet privacy!

There are couple of projects I know which are around what you are saying, complete ownership of data with the user - Upspin(Rob Pike - Golang creator) and Solid (Tim Berners Lee).

@aparatbar - Where are we on this? Has IFF started working on any projects?