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India for inclusive internet governance

by Prasad Krishna last modified May 05, 2014 10:36 AM
India wants "core internet infrastructure" to be part of an international legal system that would accommodate governments, civil society and other stakeholders. In typical Indian diplomatic style, its position can be interpreted to mean everything and nothing.

The article by Indrani Bagchi published in the Times of India on April 25, 2014 quotes Sunil Abraham.

An MEA team, led by joint secretary Vinay Kwatra, told Net Mundial (forum for internet governance) in Brazil on Thursday, "The elements of India's approach on internet governance respond to its growing complexity and rests in supporting the dynamism, security and openness of a single and unfragmented cyberspace. We also support innovation and robust private sector investment to augment internet's continuing growth and evolution."

The Indian position is essentially an MEA position, because there has been little prior inter-agency consultation in the government. In fact, while the MEA had decided upon its team almost a month ago, the department of information technology woke up only last week. It was on Friday that the nodal ministry for IT-related issues even agreed to send a team to Brazil on Monday- the same team that the MEA was sending. If nothing else, sources said, this only highlighted the lack of seriousness within the Indian system.

Kwatra said internet should have a democratic governing system involving everyone, which would essentially mean creating a parallel international system. While India does not want the status quo to continue, there is no clarity whether it favours a multilateral or a multi-stakeholder system. India, like China, wants a strong state presence in the decision-making process of internet governance because "it is used for transactions of core economic, civil and defence assets at national level and in the process, countries are placing their core national security interests in this medium". On the other hand, it wants unfettered access to knowledge and technology as a nation-building and governance tool.

Additionally, India wants non-governmental stakeholders to be properly audited and a "clear delineation of principles governing their participation, including their accountability, representativeness, transparency and inclusiveness". There is a crying need for India to clearly define the future it expects to thrive in.

Sunil Abhraham of Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society says India should take the lead in defining new internet rules, keeping its future in mind. "We could use patent pools and compulsory licensing to provide affordable and innovative digital hardware to the developing world. This would ensure that rights-holders, innovators, manufactures, consumers and government would all benefit ... We could explore flat-fee licensing models like a broadband copyright cess or levy to ensure that users get content at affordable rates and rights-holders get some royalty from all internet users in India. This will go a long way in undermining the copyright enforcement-based censorship regime that has been established by the US. We could enact a world-class privacy law and establish an independent, autonomous and proactive privacy commissioner who will keep both private and state actors on a short lease. We need a scientific, targeted surveillance regime that is in compliance with human rights principles. This will make India simultaneously an IP and privacy haven and thereby attract huge investment from the private sector, and also earn the goodwill of the global civil society and independent media."

This is more than the Indian government has thought of.


While no binding decisions are expected from Brazil this week, the high profile event is expected to trigger a high-level debate on possible reforms. India, say officials, needs to come up with concrete proposals. This is imperative after the US made two crucial decisions on internet governance this year. In March the US announced that by September 2015 it would give up oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a California-based non-profit group, that assigns domain names. But the US is clear it will not hand over the levers to any organization that can be controlled by any other country. This week, the US' FCC dealt a body blow to the concept of "net neutrality" (which essentially functions on the premise that access to the internet is the same for everyone) by allowing companies like Disney and Google to pay for premium internet speeds.






Countries like China, Russia, Saudi Arabia (may be even Iran) seek to control net access for their citizens as a measure of political control. Second, cyber offensive by countries which are ramping up capacity in these fields could take over internet governance structures if they are not crafted carefully enough. If the US is relinquishing control over ICANN, the next global battle is likely to be over who takes over that mantle. This makes it important to get net governance right. At least China has a plan: It wants the UN to take control. India wants a bit of everything, without actually giving it a shape, making it virtually impossible to shape the debate.

ASPI-CIS Partnership


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