India's move to regulate Web faces opposition

Industry players and groups call for the government to stop its bid to create a UN group to regulate the Internet and identify better ways to beef up security.
Written by Swati Prasad, Contributor

NEW DELHI--India must withdraw its proposal to regulate the Web through a global multi-nation committee which it had recommended without proper understanding of the Internet or consultation with the relevant stakeholders.

"Nothing is broken in the Internet that needs to be fixed," Rajeev Chandrashekhar, a businessman and Member of Parliament in Rajya Sabha, said at the panel discussion on "India's position in the UN on Internet governance" here Wednesday hosted by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).

"The government should immediately withdraw or refine its stand at the UN," Chandrashekhar added.

India, alongside Brazil and South Africa, last September began exploring the feasibility of creating a global body to oversee online content. The following month, India proposed the establishment of a United Nations Committee on Internet Related Policies (CIRP) comprising 50 bureaucrats from the UN member countries to regulate online content.

The move evoked strong criticism as it was perceived to be a step toward Internet censorship, with some arguing the Indian government took a unilateral decision without discussing with civil society members, industry players or academicians.

The UN-CIRP's proposed mandate includes inter alia tasks such as:
•  developing and establishing international public policies related to the Internet;
•  coordinating and overseeing bodies responsible for technical and operational functions of the Internet;
•  facilitating negotiation of treaties, conventions and agreements on Internet-related public policy;
•  address developmental issues;
•  promote and protect human rights, including the right to development; and
•  undertake arbitrations and dispute resolution where necessary and crisis management.

Need for more dialogue
India has 125 million Internet subscribers and this number is expected to increase to 150 million by end-2012. According to the panelists, unlike in telecommunications, issues related to the Internet and data penetration require discussion between government and service providers as well as cooperation and dialogue among a host of other stakeholders--commonly known as multistakeholder groups.

Nitin Desai, special adviser to UN secretary-general on Internet Governance and former chairman of Multistakeholder Advisory Group for Internet Governance Forum, stated the world is facing a situation where the Internet is threatening the security of nations. Hence, a regulatory body is necessary.

Desai added: "We need to protect the functionality of the Internet so the cyber space is not misused."

Ambassador A. Gopinathan, India's former Permanent Representative to UN in Geneva, said the governance model India is advocating is multilateral, transparent and democratic in nature. "The government is in no way taking away the right to expression from its people. It is only trying to oversee the activities on the Internet to avoid any unfortunate incident," Gopinathan said.

However, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, president of Foundation for Media Professional, noted that voices of the intolerant tended to dominate the voices of the tolerant. "The Internet should remain free," he said.

Naresh Ajwani, member of NRO NC-Asia Pacific Network Information Center (APNIC), also opposed CIRP, saying: "For a headache, I would not prescribe a post-mortem."

Vikram Tiwathia, associate director-general for Cellular Operators Association of India added that the Indian government does not understand the Internet.

Chandrashekhar described CIRP as intrusive and said it would only distort things further. "The cybersecurity issue is a very small part of CIRP and there are better ways to beef up the security of the country than CIRP. By supporting this, we will allow the UN to control what we access through the Internet. CIRP also is not helping Internet penetration in India in any way," he said.

To have India's voice heard in global forums, Sunil Abraham, executive director at Center for Internet and Society, proposed the country establish stronger representation on international discussions.

FICCI said it would compile and submit suggestions made by the panelists to the government.

Ministerial group on Internet government
Govind, head of department for Internet governance at Department of Electronics and IT (DeitY), called for cooperation between the Indian government, industry players and academics.

"There is a need to have a mechanism globally to address Internet governance policies, excluding the technical and operational functions of Internet," Govind noted, adding that the government is setting up an inter-ministerial group (IMG) to address this.

He said it would allow all stakeholders on Internet governance to offer their views and a consensus to be reached. To be formed within weeks, the IMG will comprise all concerned ministries including India's Department of Telecommunications.

He said DeitY is already in discussions with representatives from the civil society, advocacy groups and industry associations on this proposal.

Swati Prasad is a freelance IT writer based in India.

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