AT A time when the Internet governance architecture is under transition, India’s push for a multi-stakeholder model that envisages a pivotal role for the government in managing cyberspace has found traction among other countries, especially in the backdrop of threats from terror groups, said Union Minister of Communications and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad.
The role of the government as “an important stakeholder” and “a custodian of security” for the global Internet infrastructure has become increasingly relevant now and is finding greater resonance among countries, said Prasad.
The new governance model is being worked out through a global consultation process and efforts are underway to end direct US government oversight control of administering the Internet. This exercise is being coordinated by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers or ICANN, which has been mandated by the US Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to manage the Internet under a contract that expires on September 30 this year.
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The proposal crafted over the course of two years with inputs from businesses, academia, governments and others was endorsed at an ICANN board meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco earlier this month. There, ICANN had submitted a final transition plan to the NTIA.
Prasad was in Marrakesh heading a team from India that included the deputy National Security Advisor Arvind Gupta and chief of cyber security Gulshan Rai, where India’s proposal was articulated on March 7.
If all goes according to plan, post-September, the gatekeeper role of Internet addresses will be free from US oversight and these functions would shift to the broader global online community. On the government’s role — a controversial subject — Prasad said the gradual transformation in the global outlook over an increased role for the government stems from the looming security threats from groups such as Islamic State.
“I could feel that (other countries want the government to play a role)… What is important is the need for the government’s role as a custodian of security in view of emerging threat is there. In that way, there is endorsement of India’s stand,” Prasad told The Indian Express.
Currently, ICANN, which manages the database for top-level domain names such as .com and .net and their corresponding numeric addresses that allow computers to connect, works under a mandate from the NTIA to manage the Internet under contract. The transition is unlikely to affect how users interact online, but will shift the technical supervision of the online address system to ICANN itself, with a system that ensures no single entity can exert control over the Internet.
India’s proposal, as enunciated in Marrakesh, is that the Internet should be managed through the multi-stakeholder approach and the governments should have “supreme right and control” on matters relating to international security.
India has said that the body managing the Internet should have “accountability towards governments” in areas where “governments have primary responsibility, such as security and similar public policy concerns.”
“While fully endorsing the multi-stakeholder model, the issue of security should also remain in focus, where the government has a very important role to play, as safety and security remains the primary responsibility of the governments,” Prasad said.
He said that the Islamic State threat has changed the global outlook. “You must understand that IS has completely changed the world perception on the looming threat of terrorism. After (the terror attack on) France, and Europe, now (the threat perception) is not just India or Pakistan-centric,” he added.
“If Internet is one of the finest creations of human mind, it ought not be allowed to be abused by the few, to unleash terror and cybercrime through dark net and dark webs and other instruments,” Prasad said.
When ICANN was founded in 1998, the initial plan was to keep its anchoring contract with the NTIA for a short time period, and eventually become independent in a couple of years. ICANN, however, subsequently resisted attempts by the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union to take over its job.
IANA (the Internet Assigned Names Authority, the part of ICANN that handles country codes, Internet numbers and protocols) went on being part of ICANN, despite concerns from a number of countries over the US stranglehold over the Internet.