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Net loss

Multiple stakeholders in internet governance may be a good idea. But who’s India to talk?

Multiple stakeholders in internet governance may be a good idea. But who’s India to talk?

Who should run the internet? States and corporations have long struggled over the question. Last October,India proposed a new model of internet governance — a UN Committee for Internet-Related Policies,which shifts control to elected governments,advised by experts,international organisations and civil society,under the UN umbrella. This would invert the current system,where ICANN (the non-profit that acts as custodian of the internet) has a toothless government advisory committee. Instead of that single point of control in the US,India’s proposal aims to empower 50 countries to ensure fair geographic representation. It will make recommendations,not laws. But the proposal is vague on how it will interact with ICANN,business and civilian interests — the key questions that will determine its feasibility.

A multi-stakeholder set-up would be an improvement on wilful national governments and self-interested corporations. Thoughtful global cooperation is essential to today’s internet — both users and attackers are distributed around the world. Many issues like data protection,IP enforcement,network neutrality and censorship also need wider debate and democratic oversight. We need to mull a multilateral framework for cooperation,without undermining the internet’s bottom-up impulse.

However,all of India’s big talk of multiple stakeholders looks feeble,when you think of its own unhappy record with IT legislation. In an already vague IT Act,rules drafted under Section 43 A on “reasonable security practices” for corporations allow any citizen to play censor. These rules,challenged by an annulment motion in the Rajya Sabha and criticised by BJP,CPM,JD (U),SP and BSP MPs,have been upheld nonetheless. As in the case of the NCERT cartoons,this government’s first impulse is to ride roughshod over freedoms,not bothering to consult those better informed or those whose rights are being curtailed. Section 88 of the IT Act required the government to form a “Cyber Regulations Advisory Committee” consisting of “the interests principally affected or having special knowledge of the subject-matter” to advise the government on framing the rules,or for any other purpose connected with the IT Act — this committee is yet to be formed. Internet governance should be about the consent of the networked,a negotiation between people and those who have the power to affect their freedoms. The takeaway from the Indian government’s own record is clear: the less leverage government has over the internet,the better for citizens.