The internet has grown explosively, much faster than older media, because a government — Washington, in this case — had the sense to let go of it. Now, another government — in New Delhi — wants to tighten its grip and award itself custody over the security of internet infrastructure.
While the ICANN board met earlier this month in Marrakesh to relinquish Washington’s control over the internet in favour of a global, multi-stakeholder model, the Union minister for communications and IT, Ravi Shankar Prasad, who attended the meet, has sought a bigger role for governments, holding up the mesmerisingly nebulous juju of security threats such as the rise of the Islamic State. In these disturbed times, the security threat has upstaged the old faithful, “technical reasons”, to explain away things that governments would rather not explain. Usually because they cannot.
Prasad says that his proposal struck a chord with representatives of foreign powers. Indeed, in a largely unreformed world, it is scarcely difficult to find governments who mistrust their subjects — even liberal democracies do that.
Perhaps this is only an appeal to India’s famous weakness for endorsement from distant shores?
The Indian government can always limit or suspend communications networks according to threat perceptions. What extra benefit would flow to it from a deeper sense of control over those networks? Hopefully, it is not the ability to snoop at will, without the galling necessity to move the courts on a case-by-case basis? Without regard for political affiliation, governments and administrations — especially those that take a special interest in security — have an innate yearning for pervasive and permanent surveillance. It is in the nature of governments to seek the right to snoop. It should be equally natural for their subjects to routinely resist it.