Internet Governance and India’s CIRP Proposal

How internet is governed?

There is no central governing body operating the internet but to maintain interoperability, all technical and policy aspects of the underlying core infrastructure and the principal namespaces are administered by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is a non-profit body, headquartered in Marina del Rey, California.

The two most critical Internet resources viz. the authoritative root zone server and Internet names & addresses system are managed by ICANN, which is under contract with the U.S. Department of Commerce.

  • ICANN is thus subject to U.S Laws in all aspects.
  • ICANN oversees the assignment of globally unique identifiers on the Internet, including domain names, Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, application port numbers in the transport protocols, and many other parameters. This creates a globally unified namespace that is essential for the global reach of the Internet.
  • ICANN itself is governed by an international board of directors drawn from across the Internet technical, business, academic, and other non-commercial communities.

Though ICANN is said to be an independent globally accountable governance system, yet it is not. Practically, ICANN’s role is more or less dependent on the will and pleasure of the U.S. government and the relationship, according to existing contract documents, can be annulled any moment by the U.S. government.

Concerns of Developing Countries

The single point control of Internet has more grievous for the developing countries. With increased securitisation of the Internet, the single point control issue has become even more severe for developing countries.

The United States and other developed countries are using the power of their monopoly Internet companies and other kinds of strategic advantages to shape the Internet as per their narrow interests. They have also managed to keep the developing countries away from the seats of governance of the Internet. The west has projected itself as the protector of freedoms and liberties on the Internet, freedom of expression.

One example of US Hegemony over internet is a proposed legislation of United States on Internet kill switch. Internet kill switch is a concept which involves activating a single shut off mechanism for all Internet traffic. The theory behind a kill switch is creation of a single point of control for one authority or another to control in order to “shut down the internet to protect it” from unspecified assailants. Thus it is seen as one of the cybercrime and countermeasures.

The drafting of the legislation dubbed Lieberman bill which implies to actually of “killing” the Internet has prompted criticism of the idea in the United States as well as all over world. This Internet kill switch legislation could have application across the world. Moreover, United States has many a times used the domain name system services for extra-territorial enforcement of its intellectual property laws. Thus, we can say that the concerns over U.S. control on the critical infrastructure of the Internet are quite legitimate.

Nations such as Russia, China, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan want governance models that seek to place the Internet under U.N. control while the U.S. and western states are hesitant to move away from the status quo position of ICANN-led Internet governance.

What is India’s Stance?

In recent development, India has distanced itself from any model that promulgates governments control over internet. While India is not opposing ICANN control over internet, it has sought consensus from multi-stakeholders to develop an appropriate model for the effective management of the Internet. India opposes any model that propagates governments or inter-governmental control of internet, which as per India could lead to balkanization of internet.

What was India’s UN-CIRP Proposal?

In October 2011, India had proposed a new model of internet governance — a UN Committee for Internet-Related Policies (UN-CIRP or CIRP). The core philosophy of the new model was that it shifts control to elected governments, advised by experts, international organisations and civil society, under the UN umbrella. It is contrary to the toothless government advisory committee of ICANN.

Instead of ICANN , that is a single point of control in the US, India’s proposal aims to empower 50 countries to ensure fair geographic representation. The committee will make recommendations, not laws.

In the recently held Budapest Cyber Space Conference, India’s Minister of State for Telecom Sachin Pilot said that instead of opposing the U.S.-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and its operations through an earlier proposal called the U.N. Committee on Internet-Related Policies (UN-CIRP), India will pursue enhanced cooperation through wider dialogue.

India had positioned its UN-CIRP proposal as something that would lie in between the two extremes viz. US control and UN control. At the same time, India has also shown interetst in its engagement with ICANN governance. The minister said that the extreme views being floated by some countries on Internet governance could lead to the balkanisation of Internet and we are against any such move, including control of Internet by government or inter-governmental bodies. The Indian government’s changed stance on Internet governance, though subtle, is expected to generate further attention at the upcoming Internet Governance Forum in Baku, Azerbaijan next month, where thousands of delegates representing governments, business, civil society, academia and media from across the world will collect to discuss the issue.

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