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Govt plans inter-ministerial panel on Internet policy

by Prasad Krishna last modified Sep 25, 2012 10:28 AM
The government may set up an inter-ministerial panel to improve coordination among the various arms of the government on Internet-related issues such as governance, commerce and security, according to a senior government official who didn’t want to be named.
Govt plans inter-ministerial panel on Internet policy

The government recently received flak for the way it sought to contain the spread of hate messages over the Internet that had led to communal violence and a panic exodus by people from the north-eastern states in some cities.

Surabhi Agarwal's article was originally published in LiveMint on September 19, 2012. Sunil Abraham is quoted.

The panel will have representation from government departments including information technology, telecom, home, external affairs and commerce among others. The proposal is being considered because there are multiple stakeholders involved, said the official. The panel will be most likely be headed by the department of electronics and information technology, which is currently the policymaking body on the Internet.

Over the past year, the government has been criticized over several Internet-related issues, all of them to do with censorship. It received flak recently for the way it sought to contain the spread of hate messages over the Internet that had led to communal violence and a panic exodus by people from the north-eastern states in some cities.

Moreover, with the underlying aim of having a bigger say in global policymaking pertaining to the Internet, the government had proposed the establishment of the United Nations Committee on Internet Related Policy (UN-CIRP). The agency’s mandate will include developing and establishing international public policies relating to the Internet; coordinating and overseeing bodies responsible for the technical and operational functioning of the Internet; facilitating negotiation of treaties; undertaking arbitration and dispute resolution; and crisis management, among others.

The government has said that the intent behind proposing such a body was not to control the Internet but to develop a mechanism for globally acceptable and harmonized policy making. The move though has largely been construed as an effort by governments to regulate the Internet.

Currently, the Internet is largely governed by the not-for-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). However, the government says ICANN is dominated mostly by the US, explaining the need for a body such as UN-CIRP.

Another government official confirmed that an inter-ministerial panel is currently being “mulled” over. This official, who also did not want to be identified, said the Internet governance policy is increasing in importance and there was a need to discuss whether the current global policymaking structure would be relevant in the next five years.

“We need to firm up the country’s stand at international forums of the Internet and an inter-ministerial committee will aid in bringing some kind of clarity,” he said.

Any proposal for better coordination between different wings of the government would be welcome, said Sunil Abraham, executive director of Bangalore-based research organization Centre for Internet and Society.

“The thumb rule with governance, be it international or national, is that coordination policy formulation bodies is a good idea, but we can’t damn or praise them over the process,” he said. “We have to see what coordination results out of the body.”

Rajya Sabha member of Parliament Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opposing UN-CIRP, had said that India’s proposal was made without much discussion and stakeholder consultation.

There wasn’t enough clarity about what the government trying to regulate through the body, Abraham said.

“Is it to regulate citizens or industry or government activity or for regulation around IP (intellectual property), competition, data protection, crime or tax, we don’t know,” he said.

The problem with UN-CIRP is that India would be supported by countries that are against free access to the Internet such as Cuba, China and Russia to name a few, Naresh Ajwani, a member of the Asia Pacific Network Information Center (APNIC) said on Wednesday on the sidelines of a meet in Delhi on the issue.

However, the government feels that not only will UN-CIRP lead to India having a bigger role in global policymaking for the Internet, it will also help in dealing with crises better as it will lead to enhanced cooperation between nations.

Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

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