The one-day conference on Internet Governance in India: People, Purpose and Process organised by ICRIER, with the support of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY), Government of India, deliberated on India’s engagement with global Internet governance institutions and processes. It also focused on the need to protect the country’s critical internet infrastructure. In his keynote address, Ajay Prakash Sawhney, Secretary, MEITY, emphasised the need to develop capacity in India in the realm of internet governance. He pointed out that despite a vast majority of internet users coming from the region, Indian stakeholders are yet to play a significant role in global discussions on internet policy making and that there is an urgent need to address this discrepancy. The three panel discussions during the conference focused on the history and evolution of global and domestic internet, and internet governance institutions. The latter part of the discussions also touched upon measures to bolster digital inclusion, capacity building, standards development and co-operation between different stakeholders. The participants highlighted the need to encourage a transparent, democratic and diverse process for domestic policy formulation and deliberated on India’s critical internet infrastructure emphasising the role of ‘trust’ between different institutions in the area of internet governance.
Conference on Internet Governance in India: People, Purpose and Process
24th of February, 2020 at Silver Oak Hall, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi
10:30 – 11:00: Registration
11:00 – 11:10: Welcome Remarks
11:10 – 11:30: Opening Address
11:30 – 12:45: Panel Discussion I: India’s Engagement with Global Internet Governance Institutions and Processes
12:30 – 13:30: Lunch
13:30 – 14:00: Special Address
14:00 – 15:00: Panel Discussion II: India’s Critical Internet Infrastructure
15:00 – 15:30: Tea Break
15:30 – 16:30 Panel Discussion III: Internet Governance: The Indian Experience
16:30 – 16:50 Closing Address
16:50 – 17:00 Vote of Thanks
17:00 onwards High Tea
Summary of Internet Governance in India: People, Purpose and Process”
Silver Oak Hall, India Habitat Centre
24 February 2020
As new and emerging technologies develop relying extensively on the internet backbone, it becomes imperative to rearticulate the vision for internet governance, and especially from the perspective of an emerging power like India. In this context, ICRIER with the support of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY), held a daylong conference at India Habitat Centre. The welcoming remarks were given by the Director and Executive Dr. Rajat Kathuria wherein he explained how technology and the internet has evolved in the past three decades and intricately woven to become an integral part of our daily lives. According to him, we have an immense number of challenges to overcome in the sphere of digital information. He urged for the development of well-coordinated rules in the sphere of internet policy making which needs to be open, inclusive and transparent. Reflecting on this need, he also focused on the large number of cybersecurity issues and challenges which have surfaced the sphere of internet governance. Following the introductory remarks, Mr. Ajay Sawhney delivered the Keynote Address wherein he expressed his views on internet governance. He shed light on the few gaps and discrepancies existing in the sphere of internet government including the disparity between the numbers of Indian internet users and the participation of India in the formulation of internet governing policy. Another challenge which he shed light on, was the availability of the internet content in the 22 scheduled languages. While concluding, he also presented his views on how the Indian government can learn and build on the already existing frameworks of other countries. He focused on the need for a framework which would align the offline and online infrastructure of internet entities, ultimately working in the interest of the country.
PANEL DISCUSSION – I: India’s Engagement with Global Internet Governance Institutions and Processes
The panelists for the first round of the panel discussion were Mr. Sarvjeet Singh, Ms. Latha Reddy and Mr. Samiran Gupta; the discussion was moderated by Mr. Gangesh Varma. The moderator commenced the discussion by giving a brief overview of the history and evolution of internet and internet governance. He went on to define internet governance as a developmental application formulating the norms and regulation for the evolution and use of internet governance. According to him, though we have come far in the journey of internet to the ubiquitous social media, smart devices and cloud infrastructure; we still have a long way to go. Along the same lines, he also narrated how the issues revolving around the internet fundamentally has evolved from the ICT development to human rights, privacy and cybersecurity.
Latha Reddy shared her insights with the audience starting from how internet governance has evolved in the country. She explained how a decade ago, the main concern of the government was to connect the public which resulted in numerous gaps and overlapping in the policy issues. She went on to elaborate on how integral the role of private industries is, in shaping the policy framework and infrastructure in the sphere of internet governance. She believed that the vision and direction could only be optimally implemented once the government and private industries join hands. Mr. Samiran Gupta also mentioned statistics explaining the growth of internet base in India with respect to global participation. His inputs revolved around how India needs to participate in the global arena of internet governance. According to him, we need to be concerned about the technology standards which are the preface of the future along with the policy issues; encircling how to run the technology and provide services, and how digital inclusion needs to be meticulously inculcated keeping the civil rights and society satisfied. Building on to which, Mr. Sarvjeet Singh explained how the lack of Indian representation at international fora would be problematic for the civil society. He concluded by suggesting that there is a need for increasing the consistent engagement of government personnels and developing their capacity. He also shed light on how the instability of the vision resulting from irregular and absenteeism of meetings would ultimately result in inconsistent engagement. He also opined that thus far India stance has been more reactive and it may be wise to play a more proactive role in the ongoing discourse and aim to become agenda setters in the global realm of internet governance.
The special address was made by Mr. Shyamal Ghosh. He spoke about the evolution of policy concerns in the telecom sectors and India’s emerging digital economy. He focused on mechanisms to triangulate among right to information, security and data privacy. He drew a comparison between USA’s soft regulatory stance vis-à-vis the more hardline approach taken by the EU, which are both at the extreme ends of the regulatory spectrum. He suggested that India’s regulatory policies should take a moderate approach. However, he used Schumpeter’s creative destruction theory to explain how when old orders give way to new ones, existing regulations become redundant. Therefore, regulatory policies must also evolve in-sync with technology. According to him, the opaqueness surrounding the generation, collection and usage of data by new generation devices, makes it imperative for this objective to be crystal clear. This would help policymakers formulate targeted policies.
PANEL DISCUSSION II: India’s Critical Internet Infrastructure
The panelists for the second round of the panel discussion were Ms. Gunjan Chawla, Mr. G. Narendra Nath, Mr. Anupam Aggarwal and Mr. Saikat Datta; the discussion was moderated by Ms. Isha Suri. Mr. Nath explained the significance of “trust” in the arena of internet governance. He also expressed his concern about the criticality of the internet infrastructure and the wrong routing of the traffic of the internet. Building onto this, he shared his views on the critical security and how to tap and harness the capacity of our country’s potential .According to him, the need for a framework wherein the government, civil society and private industries come together to bridge the trust gap. Mr. Anupam’s comments focused on the metes and bounds of critical internet infrastructure and how we should initiate the process to define it in order to efficiently devise the laws. On critical infrastructure , Ms. Gunjan addressed the need to explore and inculcate capacity building opportunities within education curriculums of the country. She focused on how with an increase in the internet traffic, there is an urgent need to increase the efficiency. According to her, this could be achieved through outsourcing or via deployment of efficient business model. She also concluded by suggesting that the government needs to foster trust between different entities. Mr. Saikat Datta explained how asking and discussing issues at international forums would be beneficial for the country. According to him, in order to achieve the aforementioned goal the challenge of capacity building needs to be conquered. He concluded by mentioning that only when such discussions happen, the questions related to a country based root server would be answered. The panel also discussed the definition of what is critical information infrastructure and distinguishing it from the less commonly articulated critical internet infrastructure.
PANEL DISCUSSION III: Internet Governance: The Indian Experience
The panelists for the final round of the panel discussion were Ms. Anita Gurumurthy, Mr. Apar Gupta, Dr. Govind and Mr. Puneeth Nagaraj; and was moderated by Dr. Mansi Kedia. Dr. Govind initiated the discussion by surmising the history of the internet governance and regulation. He stressed on the need for an inclusive, democratic and transparent framework for regulating the arena of internet governance. According to him security, safety and resilience should be the virtues of the internet policy, which have evolved from the original aim of access, diversity and safety. He concluded suggesting India to host global conferences and discussion forums on standardisation in the sphere of internet governance. Ms. Anita Gurumurthy was ambivalent to the position of India in the sphere of internet governance. Recalling Dr. Govind’s comment, she expressed how the increasing claim of population has led to hasty recommendations in the horizon of copyright issues. Therefore, there has been an evolution in the idea of sovereign and leadership in the public policy of internet governance. The historical narrative was also a part of her discussion where she gave an illustration of the working group on constitution in order to formulate a global governance framework binding for the internet, but eventually failed to do so. She also highlighted the principle of internet egalitarianism in regards to public internet entities. She went to discuss the shortcomings of the current framework namely – lack of government institutional infrastructure or public clinics for deliberations. She also expressed her concerns regarding an entire generation of ill-informed users/consumers and how the traders related to ecommerce policies have been affected. Mr. Apar Gupta built on Ms. Anita Gurumurthy’s comments and suggested that the objective of public consultation and administration of public content should be transparency. He gave his insights on how the increase in diverse set of viewpoints and degree of foreseeability is integral to policy making. He highlighted how the transparency level varies across the ministries and committees which in turn, undermine the role and power of the standing committee. He went on to suggest that we need to build trust and strategise on how to curb the lack of participation from the civil society. He concluded by suggesting that the government should focus on increasing the level of predictability of the policies and risks to consultations can be mitigated by factoring them in during the initial stages of the process. Mr. Puneeth Nagaraj elaborated on how effective multistakeholderism has been. He went on to explain how most of the issues are real life related not tech related as a result of which there is a legitimate need to conduct regular multi-stakeholder dialogues. He drew focus on how Indian actors lack in institutional knowledge and participate only irregularly resulting in inconsistency. He also pointed out the shortcomings of an Indian framework wherein lack of funding and training; and abstaining from engaging on substantive issues was highlighted.
The concluding remarks were given by Mr. T. Santhosh wherein he highlighted that there is not enough industrial leadership presence at international internet governance forums and the direction to progress and grow was defined and would be initiated by formulating standards which will help create numerous markets. Dr. Rajat Kathuria concluded the conference by distilling key takeaways of the day. He highlighted that the representation at multi-stakeholder fora is not reflective of the heftiness of the user base and there is an urgent need to improve our domestic process and capacity for efficient management and formulation of regulations. According to him, the problem of under representation, the issue of legitimacy and credibility resulting in the erosion of trust between the institutions and entities are among the major challenges that serve as roadblocks to harnessing India’s potential.
24 Feb, 2023