India is rapidly going digital. There are good and bad, bumps in the road, and caveats to keep in mind. the weekly column Terminal focuses on everything that is connected and what is not: digital issues, politics, ideas and topics that dominate the conversation in India and the world.

Aaron Swartz died 10 years ago, driven to suicide by prosecutorial overreach by US prosecutors who were trying to sentence him to 35 years in prison for downloading scientific journals in bulk at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Swartz was a tech genius who championed the cause of open knowledge and the open Internet. He helped create the Rich Simple Site and Creative Commons, and was a co-founder of reddit and the digital rights organization Demand Progress. Beyond technological contributions, Swartz helped unlock tons of information from government databases and create open access projects and libraries.

More than anything, Swartz is known for the “Open Access Guerrilla Manifesto”, which was a call to unite and fight against the powerful companies that control information and knowledge. The Open Access Guerrilla Manifesto was a call to scientists, researchers and intellectuals to fight against the anarchic system that locked up all the world’s knowledge and culture. In Swartz’s words:

“Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The entire scientific and cultural heritage of the world, published for centuries in books and magazines, is being increasingly digitized and blocked by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results in science? You’ll have to send huge numbers to publishers like Reed Elsevier.”

His death was a tragic loss for the entire Internet community, which actively worked with him to keep it open. Swartz’s legacy continues among various open access movements and projects that still advance his ideas. Projects like Sci-Hub and LibGen are fighting the gatekeepers of knowledge by providing access to scientific journals and books. The manifesto and his work continue to inspire future generations of technologists who have taken up the cause of the open Internet and actively worked to free information. Some of them continue to follow his call for the Open Access Guerrilla Manifesto:

“We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share it with the world. We need to take things that are not copyrighted and add them to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerrilla Open Access.”

To the uninitiated, these words and the call for liberation can easily be confused with the idea of ​​information infrastructures by BigTech and Indian IT giants, where people’s personal data is forcibly collected to create private products. or government projects like Aadhaar, UPI, UHI or Digital. Closet. The key distinction here is the power of information and who controls it. People’s personal data must be under their control and all scientific and governance information generated by the government must be in the public domain.

All over the world today, technology companies have taken control of the information and infrastructure of the Internet. They have co-opted words from internet communities to follow their narratives. In the name of opening up and building Digital India, personal information has been commodified. This commodification of information is what Swartz was warning against, how the powerful are taking control of information that should belong to the people. The people who understood this fought against this very idea of ​​guardians of knowledge and information.

With the impetus of Internet.Org, Facebook is becoming a gatekeeper to the Internet in third world nations. In India, the fight for “Net Neutrality” has shown the way to challenge these projects and continues to spread these practices throughout the world. One could compare the efforts used during the fight for “Net Neutrality” with the practices employed during the SOPA-PIPA protests led by Swartz. These digital rights defense practices emerged in the early 2010s and spread across the globe.

In India, there is an information asymmetry between citizens, Big Tech and Big Government. People’s information is being forcibly collected by Big Tech and the government as both become more and more secretive and powerful. Two new bills, the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill 2022 and the Indian Telecommunication Bill 2022, ignore our right to privacy and continue to force us to share information with Big Tech and the government. Ideally, what we need is government information in the public domain and people’s personal data to be secret. “Transparency for the State and Privacy for the rest of us”.

To build this future for our society, we must embrace the Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto to reverse the information asymmetry between citizens and Big Tech-Big Government. This can only happen if we build alternative networks of information infrastructures that support these ideas. These information networks cannot be built overnight, but we must strive to achieve them. Sci-Hub and LibGen are some examples of these information infrastructures and we don’t just need to support them, we need to build more of them.

Srinivas Kodali is a digitalization researcher and hacktivist.

By sbavh

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