New Delhi: In the fierce debate on who governs the Internet, the Indian government can claim a small victory of sorts after the UN decided to establish a working group to review the mandate of agencies administering the worldwide network of computers.
India last year proposed creating an UN agency, dubbed the Committee on Internet-Related Policies (CIRP), that would decide on issues related to the Internet, including control of resources such as domain names and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), a non-governmental organization based in the US, currently administers these.
The US, the UK and Canada refused to sign a new communications treaty proposed at the 3-14 December Dubai conference of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which sets global telecom technical standards, on fears that it will give national governments greater control over the Internet and may restrict free speech. India, too, hasn’t signed the pact.
“Even though the United Nations has not yet accepted India’s proposal for constituting CIRP, it (the formation of a working group) is a step forward, as now the working group on enhanced cooperation will deliberate on the need for CIRP,” a government official said, requesting anonymity.
Although India’s proposal has been criticized as an effort to control the Internet, the government has said this will ensure it has a greater say in Internet policymaking.
The Commission on Science and Technology for Development, a UN body, has been asked to establish a working group on enhanced cooperation to examine the mandate of the World Summit on the Information Society, which issues non-binding guidelines on the Internet, “through seeking, compiling and reviewing inputs from all member states and all other stakeholders,” according to a 12 December letter from the UN to the Indian government. The working group has been asked to submit its report to the commission in 2014.
Mint has reviewed a copy of the letter and also India’s response to the UN welcoming the move.
The UN’s move reflected India’s growing influence in multilateral policymaking bodies, according to Rajat Kathuria, chief executive and director of Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, a think tank.
“India’s increasing clout not only in the WTO (World Trade Organisation) but also in these kinds of forums is fairly obvious,” he said. The country should be able to stand its ground and use its negotiating powers well, he added. “Everybody is looking at India now and it should not be forced into getting into things it doesn’t want to.” Kathuria also agreed with India’s decision to consider in detail the new global telecom pact, which contains a resolution on the Internet, before signing it.
“We don’t have enough information on the impact of signing this treaty,” Kathuria said. “I agree with what India has done. We need to do our homework and understand clearly what it means.”
Although the treaty is restricted to telecom standards, it contained a non-binding resolution on the Internet. The treaty stated that its purview doesn’t include content over telecommunications networks or the Internet.
However, there have been divergent views on its implications. While some have argued that signing it would mean giving the ITU dominance over Internet governance, others dismiss it as harmless.
“This wasn’t an ITU takeover of the Internet and India’s signing of the treaty will not make it one,” said Pranesh Prakash, policy director at Centre for Internet Studies, a Bangalore-based think tank.
However, India’s cautious approach is a good sign, he said. “I hope civil society is consulted before the decision is taken whether to support ITR (International Telecommunication Regulations) and the resolutions which were passed in Dubai.”
Critical Internet resources such as domain names and IP addresses are like natural resources and no one country should monetize them or have control over them, said another government official.
“It is of utmost importance for India to have a say in the matters of the Internet as the country has huge untapped potential in the area of Internet and technology,” said the official, who too declined to be named.
A white paper on Internet governance by Research and Information System for Developing Countries, chaired by Shyam Saran, former Indian diplomat, has said the Internet continues to be managed by private entities such as Icann “under contractual arrangements with the US government”.
Icann is not controlled by the US government, an official of the Internet administrator said on condition of anonymity. It follows a multi-stakeholder model.
The paper on Internet governance argued against the allegation that India’s proposal of CIRP will lead to government’s control of the Internet.
“India’s proposal for CIRP, a multilateral and multi-stakeholder mechanism, is not intended to control content,” it said. “It does not insist that the governments have the last word in regulating the Internet.”
The paper had argued that India should pursue the establishment of a working group on enhanced cooperation, which will pave the way for further consideration of India’s proposal for the establishment of CIRP.