The seventh meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which will be held in Azerbaijan in November, will address some serious issues that affect cyberspace today. The IGF was formed in 2006 after the UN-sponsored World Summit of the Information Society meets in Geneva (2003) and Tunis (2005). The two summits flagged issues that affect the management and growth of the internet. In the seven years of its existence, the IGF has highlighted and addressed many concerns. But it has been unable to get an acceptable working model in place.
Instead of disagreements on general issues like the management of internet resources, including its technical infrastructure, nations are now taking conflicting positions on whether the current model of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)-managed system can continue or should there be a democratic structure to manage the Web world. The Forum is not the only forum that will address this issue, but it is one of the most-prominent UN-fostered arrangements.
Along with this year’s theme of the Forum — Internet Governance for Sustainable Human, Economic and Social Development — certain traditional themes will also be discussed in Azerbaijan: managing critical internet resources, emerging issues and the security, access and usage of the medium. In the last one year, many new issues have emerged, for example, the freedom of online content. This has become important, especially after the large-scale violence over the movie Innocence of Muslims. Likewise the recent arrest of Google’s head in Brazil for third-party content has also raised concerns. In India, too, there has been trouble with online content: hate content in the social media sites and SMSes and MMSes led to the recent exodus of the people of the North-east from other Indian cities.
Over the years, India’s participation in global deliberations related to cyberspace has increased. Last year in the United Nations General Assembly, India proposed the establishment of a 50-nation Committee on Internet Related Policies (CIRP). This was endorsed by the IBSA Dialogue Forum (India, Brazil and South Africa). But apart from this combine, no other nations have supported CIRP although China and Russia, which have poor democratic traditions, had been clamouring for a multiple-nation management. However, developed countries, which are more advanced in terms of internet penetration and application, have opposed this position on the premise that the current arrangement has been successfully running and there are no reasons to change it. Further, they feel that the CIRP would be unwieldy to handle decisions that require quick responses and technical intervention.
Instead of clamouring for a multi-nation panel, India should push forward a proposal that will lay down the rules and mechanism for content management. The best way would be to focus on the provisions of the 2011 Rules for Internet Intermediaries and the 2009 Rules for blocking content. Both these supporting rules to the Information Technology Act 2008 offer the best way of minimal government intervention and even if there is any intervention, the procedures are well defined.
There is much work to be done to foster greater global cooperation on the subject but the potential of the medium calls for a faster working arrangement and India must take a lead in this.
Subimal Bhattacharjee heads a multinational corporation in India and writes on issues of technology and security
The views expressed by the author are personal