You are here: Home / Internet Governance / Blog / Regulating the Internet: The Government of India & Standards Development at the IETF

Regulating the Internet: The Government of India & Standards Development at the IETF

The institution of open standards has been described as a formidable regulatory regime governing the Internet. Given the regulatory and domestic policy implications that technical standards can have, there is a need for Indian governmental agencies to focus adequate resources geared towards achieving favourable outcomes at standards development fora.

This brief was authored by Aayush Rathi, Gurshabad Grover and Sunil Abraham. Click here to download the policy brief.


Executive Summary

 
The institution of open standards has been described as a formidable regulatory regime governing the Internet. As the Internet has moved to facilitate commerce and communication, governments and corporations find greater incentives to participate and influence the decisions of independent standards development organisations.
 
While most such bodies have attempted to systematise fair and transparent processes, this brief highlights how they may still be susceptible to compromise. Documented instances of large private companies like Microsoft, and governmental instrumentalities like the US National Security Agency (NSA) exerting disproportionate influence over certain technical standards further the case for increased Indian participation.
 
The debate around Transport Layer Security (TLS) 1.3 at the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) forms an important case for studying how a standards body responded to political developments, and how the Government of India participated in the ensuing discussions. Lasting four years, the debate ended in favour of greater communications security. One of the security improvements in TLS 1.3 over its predecessor is that is makes less information available to networking middleboxes. Considering that Indian intelligence agencies and government departments have expressed fears of foreign-manufactured networking equipment being used by foreign intelligence to eavesdrop on Indian networks, the development is potentially favourable for the security of Indian communication in general, and the security of military and intelligence systems in particular.  India has historically procured most networking equipment from foreign manufacturers. While there have been calls for indigenised production of such equipment, achieving these objectives will necessarily be a gradual process. Participating in technical standards can, then, be an effective interim method for intelligence agencies, defence wings and law enforcement for establishing trust in critical networking infrastructure sourced from foreign enterprises.
 

Outlining some of the existing measures the Indian government has put in place to build capacity for and participate in standard setting, this brief highlights that while these are useful starting points, they need to be harmonised and strengthened to be more fruitful. Given the regulatory and domestic policy implications that technical standards can have, there is a need for Indian governmental agencies to focus adequate resources geared towards achieving favourable outcomes at standards development fora.

 


Click here to download the policy brief.

Note: The recommendations in the brief were updated on 17 December 2018 to reflect the relevance of technical standard-setting in the recent discussions around Indian intelligence concerns about foreign-manufactured networking equipment.

Document Actions