“Internet governance is the development and application by Governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.”
United Nations-initiated World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)
• Internet’s root lie in the development of a communication apparatus that the US military was keen to develop in the context of the bitter struggle with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. However, various experts call it as a tool for freedom of expression, liberally regulated, and its capacity to allow users access to information previously denied-a kind of global democratization of access for all.
• At the beginning of the 21st Century, the Internet as a means of communication is ubiquitous and powerful. In 30 years since 1983 when it began its meteoric growth, its users expanded from a few million technologically adept people to the billion or so that use it regularly with total number of registered domain names to 294 million worldwide across all top-level domains (TLDs) as of March 31, 2015, according to the latest Domain Name Industry Brief.
• The borderless nature of the Internet (recognized by most analysts) produces particular needs for global institutions and has opened the door for innovative approaches.
• The Snowden revelations have exposed the extent of secret cyber surveillance by a single world power and have rang alarms on violations of basic human rights like online privacy as well as of dignity and sovereignty of nation states. This has suddenly made Internet governance one of the foremost international issues that various nations are seeking to address with a definite urgency.
• Since the involvement of multistackholderism and ensure security, peace and harmonization, given the concern, India first voiced for its proposals to establish a UN Committee for Internet-related Policies (UN-CIRP) to make sure that the Internet is governed not unilaterally, but in an open, democratic, inclusive and participatory manner, with the participation of all stakeholders which benefits all.
• Governing internet is a complex and challenging task given its globally distributed nature, lack of centralised authority, jurisdictional issues, diversity of stakeholders and services and plurality of content.
• World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) is a UN sponsored platform. The WSIS Forum is organised every year, hosted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU, the specialised UN agency for ICTs) and co-organised by ITU, UNESCO, UNCTAD and UNDP.
• WSIS, held in Geneva (2003) and Tunis (2005), officially placed the question of Internet governance on diplomatic agendas.
• Internet governance was introduced to the WSIS process during the West Asia regional meeting in February 2003, after the Geneva summit, became the key issue of the WSIS negotiations.
• The WSIS Tunis Agenda for the Information Society elaborated on the question of Internet governance, including adopting a definition, listing Internet governance issues, and establishing the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), a multistakeholder body convoked by the UN Secretary General.
Beginning of the Issue: Internet Governance
• The issue began around a technical environment with economic consequences, the scarcity of domain names (key elements in the addressing system) and after a domestic process in the United States led to the creation of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) which involved conflict among countries for its ground of existence and distribution of Domain Names.
• The ICANN, headquartered in Los Angeles and incorporated in 1998, allocates unique Internet addresses be it emails or websites and effectively coordinates those to create one global Internet.
• Since the last decade onwards, international community has made some attempts at understanding issues of Internet governance and at evolving public policy debates around shared cyberspace (cross border and jurisdiction issues), intellectual property, access to knowledge, trade and commerce, openness, standards, diversity, rights, etc. One of the prominent forums of policy dialogue is the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS).
• With the involvement of various stakeholders and evolution of public policy debates around shared cyberspace (cross border and jurisdiction issues) and many other issues related to the Internet, various parties have raised their voice following which in 2003 a prominent forum, World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) was organised.
• Following the next summit of WSIS 2005, the UN sponsored Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which is meant to promote dialogue on Internet governance was established in 2006. The IGF serves as an open discussion forum and is not a negotiating platform and hence does not make formal recommendations to the UN.
• The WSIS 2005 outcome document is arguably the first and only agreement at the international level that seeks to promote the role of intergovernmental bodies in Internet governance. However, on democratisation of the Internet, it could hardly go beyond sketching a rather vague model.
• In December 2010, The UN General Assembly renewed IGF through 2015 and tasked the UN’s Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) to develop a report and recommendations on how the IGF might be improved.
• The Internet Governance Forum, which held its 8th Meeting in Bali, Indonesia in October 2013, discussed, in the backdrop of recent revelations about government-led Internet surveillance activities, the need to ensure better protection of all citizens in the online environment and to strive for a proper balance between actions driven by national security concerns and the respect for internationally recognised human rights, such as the right to privacy and freedom of expression.
• Recently, World Economic Forum 2014 has announced an Independent commission to investigate the future of the Internet in the wake of revelations on Internet surveillance. The commission is yet to submit its report.
• Despite having one of the largest numbers of Internet users in the world and having a strong base in ICT services, public opinion in India is ill-formed and government departments have not engaged in wider consultations in the process of formulating India’s stance on Internet governance. India’s response towards intimidating digital surveillance has been rather weak. However, India is slowly moving towards creating its own infrastructure to protect critical digital resources and institutionalise security surveillance to neutralise terror threats.
• If we scan through India’s statements at UN General Assembly (over the recent years) it is clear that initially India never proposed to change existing multi-stakeholder models promoted by private interests and supported by the US, notwithstanding India’s intentions of forging a greater international cooperation in management of Internet related policy matters.
• India’s contribution towards deliberations on Internet governance is mature but lacks consistency and coherence. India along with the US, EU and Japan did not sign the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR), to come into effect from 1 January 2015, at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (Dubai, 2012) which was signed by 89 out of 144 members including Russia, China, South Korea, countries of Africa, Middle East and Latin America.
• India has made a bid to be a major player in global Internet governance — by making a pitch with the US to locate a 'root server' in India. There are only 13 such servers, of which 10 are in the US, two in Europe and one in Japan. A root name server, as it's technically known, is at the base of the Internet. These servers translate readable host names into IP addresses, which is how a user gets to the right portal link.
• While it is important for India to carefully align itself under difficult geopolitics of the World Wide Web, India should also buckle up for host of other issues of the global Internet that affects its economics.
• Control of the Internet is in a few hands – its administration challenges norms of democratic institutions and lacks any form of multilateral character. The challenge for developing countries therefore, is to propose their framework and agenda of alternative multilateral Internet governance institutions that would be fair towards them and are run democratically.