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India to stall Internet reform proposal at Brazil meet

ICANN is a not-for-profit organisation, but is contractually affiliated to the US Department of Commerce.

With a view to assert the “sovereign right” of governments to “regulate and manage” the internet, India will oppose the proposal to “reform” the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) — the principal body that manages the web’s domain name system — at the ongoing Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance (NETmundial) in Brazil.

In fact, the Indian position is so divergent from the NETmundial’s stated goals that Delhi has sought to relegate its “outcome document” to the status of a “discussion paper”. India’s response to the draft outcome document categorically rejects the ICANN’s proposal to “transition” from a US-controlled model to a “multi-stakeholder” approach to internet governance.

ICANN is a not-for-profit organisation, but is contractually affiliated to the US Department of Commerce. Initially, NETmundial was intended to chart a “roadmap” for internet governance. In March, however, the US government announced its decision to “transition” key internet domain name functions to the “global multi-stakeholder community”, raising the stakes at NETmundial. The US, however, also made it clear that it would “not accept a proposal” for an “inter-governmental organisation”.

It is precisely such an inter-governmental or “multilateral” approach that the Indian government is now pushing for at NETmundial, making the prospect of a stalemate in Brazil highly likely. The draft outcome document suggests that the “security, stability and robustness” of the internet should be a key objective of “all stakeholders”, a phrase that India wants removed. India also wants the document to recognise the “central and sovereign right of governments to frame national cyber policies”.

The draft does not incorporate the term “multilateral”, which India has objected to. India also does not want NETmundial to “recommend” the way forward for internet governance, but simply serve as a discussion platform. Above all, it has sought “proper international legislative authority”, or in other words, a treaty, to regulate ICANN’s functioning. Given that treaties are negotiated primarily by states, it is unclear how this proposal would sit with the multistakeholder approach that ICANN has mooted.

India neither wishes to commit to “implementing” or “explicitly adhering” to the outcome at NETmundial, nor does it want “NETmundial findings” to inform other internet governance discussions.

India also objected to the draft document’s goal to preserve an “unfragmented internet”, signalling that it has not ruled out the “balkanisation” of the internet along geographical lines. In the aftermath of the Snowden revelations, the Brazilian government had threatened to route all regional internet traffic through servers that would be located in the country.

The government’s “multilateral” approach to internet governance is not the product of a common negotiating position endorsed by key ministries. The run-up to NETmundial has seen a protracted turf battle between the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. The latter has long advocated the “multi-stakeholder” model of internet governance.

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister’s Office sought the views of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology on internet governance. Sources said the ministry, in its response, reaffirmed its support for the multi-stakeholder approach and made it clear that the multilateral/ intergovernmental model was not the best way forward.

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