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Preliminary Submission on "Internet Governance Issues" to the Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India

Posted by Geetha Hariharan at Feb 12, 2015 02:50 PM |
On January 30, 2015, Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) held a consultation on Internet governance. A committee was set up to draft a report on Internet governance, with a focus on issues relevant to India. The Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) is represented on the committee, and has provided its preliminary comments to ASSOCHAM.

ASSOCHAM convened a meeting of its members and other stakeholders, at which CIS was represented. At this meeting, inputs were sought on Internet governance issues relevant for India, on which the industry body proposed to make comments to the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. Such a discussion, proposing to consolidate the views of ASSOCHAM members in consultation with other stakeholders, is a commendable move. This submission presents preliminary comments from the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) in light of ASSOCHAM's consultation on Internet governance.

I. About CIS

1. CIS is a non-profit research organization that works, inter alia, on issues relating to privacy, freedom of expression, intermediary liability and internet governance, access to knowledge, open data and open standards, intellectual property law, accessibility for persons with disabilities, and engages in academic research on the budding Indian disciplines of digital natives and digital humanities.

2. CIS engages in international and domestic forums for Internet governance. We are a Sector-D member of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU),[1] and participated in the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), 2012 (Dubai) [2] and the Plenipotentiary Conference, 2014 (Busan).[3] We have also participated in the WSIS+10 Multistakeholder Preparatory Platform (MPP)[4] and the WSIS+10 High Level Event, organized by the ITU.[5]

3. CIS is also a member of the Non-Commercial Users Constituency (NCUC) at ICANN. Pranesh Prakash, our Policy Director, held a position on the NCUC Executive Committee from December 2013 to November 2014.[6]

4. CIS has been engaging at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) since 2008, and has organized and participated in over 60 panels to date.[7] We have also organized panels at the Asia-Pacific Regional IGF (APrIGF). [8] Our Executive Director Sunil Abraham is a member of the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) for the India-IGF, and has attended in its meetings.[9] We are also in the process of developing international principles for intermediary liability, in collaboration with international civil society organisations like EFF and Article19. [10]

II. Structure of Submission

5. In this submission, we identify issues in Internet governance where engagement from and within India is necessary. In particular, brief descriptions of issues such as freedom of expression and privacy online, cyber-security, critical Internet resources and ICANN, multistakeholderism and net neutrality are provided.

III. Internet Governance Issues

6. The history of the Internet is unique, in that it is not exclusively government-regulated. Though governments regulate the Internet in many ways (for instance, by ordering website blocking or filtering, licensing of ISPs, encryption controls, investment caps, etc.), the running of the Internet is largely in the hands of private businesses, technical organisations and end-users.

7. International processes like the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS), and forums such as ICANN, the ITU, the IGF and the UN are involved in governing in the Internet in many ways. Regional organisations like the OECD, APEC and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) are also involved (for instance, in cyber-security matters).

8. The issues surrounding Internet governance are many, and range from telecom infrastructure and technical coordination to human rights and access to information.

Rights Online

9. The status of 'human rights online' has come under discussion, with the NETmundial Outcome Document affirming that offline rights must also be protected online. These issues are important in the context of, among others, the large scale violations of privacy in light of the Snowden Revelations,[11] and increased instances of website blocking and takedowns in different parts of the world.[12]

10. Internationally, issues of freedom of speech, privacy and access or the digital divide (though it is debatable that the latter is a human right) are discussed at the UN Human Rights Council, such as the resolution on human rights and the Internet, and the UN Human Rights Commissioner's report on the right to privacy in the digital age , which discusses the need for checks and balances on digital mass surveillance. During the Universal Periodic Review of India in 2012, India noted a recommendation from Sweden to " ensure that measures limiting freedom of expression on the internet is based on clearly defined criteria in accordance with international human rights standard ".

11. Freedom of speech and privacy are also relevant for discussion at the ITU.[13] For instance, at the Plenipotentiary meeting in 2014 (Busan), India proposed a resolution that sought, among other things, complete traceability of all Internet communications. [14] This has implications for privacy that are not yet addressed by our domestic laws. A Privacy Bill and such other protections are only in the pipeline in India.[15]

12. At ICANN as well, the root zone management function may affect freedom of expression. If, for instance, a top level domain (TLD) such as .com is erased from the root zone file, hundreds of thousands of websites and their content can be wiped from the World Wide Web. A TLD can be erased by Verisign if a request to that effect is raised or accepted by ICANN, and signed off on by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the US government. Similarly,the WHOIS database, which contains information about the holders of domain names and IP addresses, has implications for privacy and anonymity.

13. In India, the judiciary is currently adjudicating the constitutionality of several provisions of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (as amended in 2008), including S. 66A, S. 69A and S. 79. A series of writ petitions filed, among others, by the Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI) and, relate to the constitutionality of the nature of content controls on the Internet, as well as intermediary liability. [16]

14. A judgment on the constitutionality of Ss. 66A, 69A and 79 are crucial for end-users and citizens, as well as companies in the Internet ecosystem. For instance, an uncertain intermediary liability regime with penalties for intermediaries - S. 79, IT Act and Intermediaries Guidelines Rules, 2011 - disincentivises ISPs, online news websites and other content providers like Blogger, Youtube, etc. from allowing free speech to flourish online. [17] The ongoing cases of Kamlesh Vaswani v. UOI and Sabu George v. UOI also have consequences for ISPs and search engines, as well as for fundamental rights.[18] International and domestic engagement is desirable, including in consultations with the Law Commission of India (for instance, the consultation on media laws).

Critical Internet Resources

15. Critical Internet Resources form the backbone of the Internet, and include management of IP addresses, the domain name system (DNS) and the root zone. [19] ICANN, a global non-profit entity incorporated in California, manages the IANA functions (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) for the global Internet. These functions include allocating the global pool of IP addresses (IPv4 and IPv6) to Regional Internet Registries (RIRs), administering the domain name system and maintaining a protocol registry.

16. At present, the IANA functions are performed under a contract with the NTIA. On March 14, 2014, the NTIA announced its intention to transition oversight of the IANA functions to an as-yet-undetermined "global multi-stakeholder body". The deadline for this transition is September 30, 2015, though the NTIA has expressed its willingness to renew the IANA contract and extend the deadline. ICANN was charged with convening the transition process, and set up the IANA Coordination Group (ICG), a team of 30 individuals who will consolidate community input to create a transition proposal. At the moment, thenames (CWG-Names),numbers (CRISP) and protocols (IETF) communities are debating existing draft proposals. A number of new entities with which ICANN will have contractual arrangements have been proposed. At ICANN's meetings in Singapore (February 7-12, 2015) and Buenos Aires (June 2015), these proposals will be discussed.

17. At the same time, a parallel track to examine ICANN's own transparency and accountability has been introduced. The CCWG-Accountability is considering ICANN's accountability in two Workstreams: first, in light of the IANA transition and second, a revision of ICANN's policies and by-laws to strengthen accountability. ICANN's accountability and transparency are crucial to its continued role in Internet governance.

18. Several issues arise here: Should ICANN continue to remain in the US? Should the IANA Functions Department be moved into a separate entity from ICANN? Ought ICANN's by-laws be amended to create oversight over the Board of Directors, which is now seen to have consolidated power? Ought ICANN be more transparent in its financial and operational matters, proactively and reactively?

19. It is, for instance, beneficial to the stability of the Internet and to India if the IANA department is separate from ICANN - this will ensure aseparation of powers. Second, stronger transparency and accountability mechanisms are necessary for ICANN; it is a growing corporate entity performing a globally Internet function. As such, granular information about ICANN's revenues and expenses should be made public. See, for ex.,CIS' request for ICANN's expenses for travel and meetings, and ICANN's response to the same.

20. The most ideal forum to engage in this is ICANN, and within India, working groups on Internet governance at the Ministry level. As such, ASSOCHAM may seek open, transparent and inclusive consultations with the relevant departments of the Government (the Ministry of External Affairs, DeitY, Department of Telecommunications). At ICANN, industry bodies can find representation in the Business Constituency or the Commercial Stakeholders Group. Additionally, comments and proposals can be made to the ICG and the CCWG-Accountability by anyone.


21. Cyber-security is often used as an umbrella-term, covering issues ranging from network security (DNSSEC and the ICANN domain), cyber-crime, and cyber-incidents such as the Distributed Denial of Service attacks on Estonian public institutions and the Stuxnet virus that attacked Iran's nuclear programme. Within the ITU, spam and child safety online are also assessed as security issues (See Study Group 17 under ITU-T).

22. At the international level, the UN Group of Governmental Experts has published three reports to date, arguing also that in cyber-security incidents, international humanitarian law will apply. International humanitarian law applies during armed attacks on states, when special rules apply to the treatment of civilians, civilian and military buildings, hospitals, wounded soldiers, etc.

23. The ITU also launched a Global Cybersecurity Agenda in 2007, aiming at international cooperation. Such cooperative methods are also being employed at the OSCE, APEC and the SCO, which have developed drafts of Confidence Building Measures. The Global Conferences on Cyberspace (London 2011, Budapest 2012, Seoul 2013, The Hague 2015) resulted in, inter alia, the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime. India has not ratified the Convention, and remains tight-lipped about its security concerns.

24. Surveillance and monitoring of online communications is a crucial issue in this regard. In India, the surveillance power finds its source in S. 5, Telegraph Act, 1888, and the Rule 419A of the Telegraph Rules, 1951. Further, S. 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and the Interception Rules, 2009 enable the government and authorized officers to intercept and monitor Internet traffic on certain grounds. Information regarding the implementation of these Rules is scant.

25. In any event, the applicability of targeted surveillance should be subject to judicial review , and a balance should be struck between fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and privacy and the needs of security. An accountability model such as that present in the UK for the Interception of Communications Commissioner may provide valuable insight.

26. In India, the government does not make public information regarding its policies in cyber-security and cybercrime. This would be welcome, as well as consultations with relevant stakeholders.

Models of Internet Governance

27. Multi-stakeholderism has emerged as one of the catchphrases in Internet governance. With the display of a multi-stakeholder model at NETmundial (April 2014), controversies and opinions regarding the meaning, substance and benefits of multi-stakeholderism have deepened.

28. The debates surrounding stakeholder-roles in Internet governance began with ¶49 of the Geneva Declaration of Principles and ¶35 of the Tunis Agenda, which delineated clear roles and responsibilities. It created a 'contributory' multi-stakeholder model, where states held sovereign authority over public policy issues, while business and civil society were contributed to 'important roles' at the 'technical and economic fields' and the 'community level', respectively.

29. As the WGEC meeting (April 30-May 2, 2014) demonstrated, there is as yet no consensus on stakeholder-roles. Certain governments remain strongly opposed to equal roles of other stakeholders, emphasizing their lack of accountability and responsibility. Civil society is similarly splintered, with a majority opposing the Tunis Agenda delineation of stakeholder-roles, while others remain dubious of permitting the private sector an equal footing in public policy-making.

30. The positions in India are similarly divided. While there is appears to be high-level acceptance of "multi-stakeholder models" across industry, academia and civil society, there exists no clarity as to what this means. In simple terms, does a multi-stakeholder model mean that the government should consult industry, civil society, academia and the technical community? Or should decision-making power be split among stakeholders? In fact, the debate is more specific.

31. In India, the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) for the India-IGF was established in February 2014, and some meetings were held. Unfortunately, neither the minutes of the meetings nor action points (if any) are publicly available.

32. The Indian government's position is more complex. At the 68th UN General Assembly session in 2011, India argued for a (multilateral) 50-member UN Committee on Internet-related Policies (CIRP). However, the Ministry for Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) has, over the years, presented differing views at the IGF and ITU through its two departments: DeitY and DoT. Further, at the meetings of the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation (WGEC), India has presented more nuanced views, suggesting that certain issues remain within the governmental domain (such as cyber-security and child online protection). At the 9th IGF (Istanbul, September 2014), Mr. R.S. Sharma of the DeitY echoed such a view of delineated roles for stakeholders.

33. A clear message from the Indian government, on whether it favours multistakeholderism or governmental policy authority for specific issues, would be invaluable in shaping opinion and domestic processes. In any event, a transparent consultative procedure to take into account the views of all stakeholders is desirable.

Emerging Issues

Net Neutrality

34. In simple terms, net neutrality concerns differential treatment of packets of data by carriers such as ISPs, etc. over networks. The issue has gained international attention following the U.S. FCC's regulatory stance, and the U.S. Court of Appeal's 2014 decision in Verizon v. FCC. Though this decision turned on the interpretation of 'broadband providers' under the Communications Act, 1934, net neutrality has since been debated in the US, both by the FCC and other stakeholders. There is no international consensus in sight; the NETmundial Outcome Document recognized net neutrality as an emerging issue (page 11, no. IV).

35. In India, a TRAI consultation on Over-The-Top Services on August 5, 2014 brought concerns of telecom and cellular operators to light. OTTs were seen as hijacking a portion of telcos' revenues, and as lacking consumer protection and privacy safeguards. While these concerns are legitimate, net neutrality regulation is not yet the norm in India. In any event, any such regulation must take into account the consequences of regulation on innovation, competition, and consumer choice, as well as on the freedom of the medium (which may have detrimental impacts freedom of expression).

36. Though net neutrality regulation is being mooted, there is as yet anarray of definitions of 'net neutrality'. The views of telcos themselves differ in India. Further study on the methods of identifying and/or circumventing net neutrality is necessary before a policy position can be taken.

IV. Conclusions

37. CIS welcomes ASSOCHAM's initiative to study and develop industry-wide positions on Internet governance. This note provides brief descriptions of several issues in Internet governance where policy windows are open internationally and domestically. These issues include freedom of expression and privacy under Part III (Fundamental Rights) of the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court's hearing of a set of cases alleging unconstitutionality of Ss. 66A, 69, 69A and 79 (among others) of the IT Act, 2000, as well as consultations on issues such as pornography by the Rajya Sabha Parliamentary Committee and media laws by the Law Commission of India are important in this regard.

38. International and domestic engagement is necessary in the transition of stewardship of the IANA functions, as well as ICANN's own accountability and transparency measures. Similarly, in the area of cyber-security, though several initiatives are afoot internationally, India's engagement has been cursory until now. A concrete position from India's stakeholders, including the government, on these and the question of multi-stakeholderism in Internet governance would be of immense assistance.

39. Finally, net neutrality is an emerging issue of importance to industry's revenues and business models, and to users' rights such as access to information and freedom of expression.

[1] CIS gets ITU-D Sector Membership, (l.a. 8 Feb. 2015).

[2] Letter for Civil Society Involvement in WCIT, (l.a. 8 Feb. 2015).

[3] See, ex., Hariharan, What India's ITU Proposal May Mean for Internet Governance, (l.a. 8 Feb. 2015).

[4] Panday, WSIS +10 High Level Event: Open Consultation Process MPP: Phase Six: Fifth Physical Meeting, (l.a. 8 Feb. 2015).

[5] Hariharan, WSIS+10 High Level Event: A Bird's Eye Report, (l.a. 8 Feb. 2015).

[6] Pranesh Prakash elected as Asia-Pacific Representative to the Executive Committee of NonCommercial Users Constituency, (l.a. 8 Feb. 2015).

[7] See, ex., CIS@IGF 2014, (l.a. 8 Feb. 2015).

[8] Multi-stakeholder Internet Governance: The Way Ahead ,; Minimising legal risks of online Intermediaries while protecting user rights, (l.a. 8 Feb. 2015).

[9] First Meeting of the Multistakeholder Advisory Group for India Internet Governance Forum, (l.a. 8 Feb. 2015).

[10] See Zero Draft of Content Removal Best Practices White Paper, (l.a. 8 Feb. 2015).

[11] See, ex., UK-US surveillance regime was unlawful 'for seven years', (l.a. 9 Feb. 2015).

[12] See, ex., Twitter: Turkey tops countries demanding content removal, (l.a. 9 Feb. 2015).

[13] See, ex., The ITU convenes a programme on Child Online Protection, (l.a. 9 Feb. 2015).

[14] Hariharan, Why India's Proposal at the ITU is Troubling for Internet Freedoms, (l.a. 9 Feb. 2015).

[15] Hickok, Report of the Group of Experts on Privacy vs. The Leaked 2014 Privacy Bill, (l.a. 9 Feb. 2015).

[16] See, Supreme Court Of India To Hear Eight IT Act Related Cases On 11th April 2014 - SFLC, (l.a. 9 Feb. 2015).

[17] See, Dara, Intermediary Liability in India: Chilling Effects on Free Expression on the Internet, (l.a. 9 Feb. 2015).

[18] See, ex., Arun, Blocking online porn: who should make Constitutional decisions about freedom of speech?,; Hariharan & Subramanian, Search Engine and Prenatal Sex Determination: Walking the Tight Rope of the Law, (l.a. 9 Feb. 2015).

[19] CSTD, The mapping of international Internet public policy issues, (l.a. 9 Feb. 2015).