.An international battle for control of the internet thankfully ended inconclusively in Dubai, though no thanks to India. The world conference of the International Telecommuni-cations Union (ITU) enjoyed a few weeks of infamy largely because of a determined effort by a group of countries, all of them one-party governments or dictatorships of some sort, to put control of the internet in the hands of a United Nations body. They were stoutly resisted by the western democracies led by the US.
Because an ITU conference would need a consensus to push through something as radical as placing the internet under an international bureaucracy, the chances of this actually happening were close to zero. In any case, most national governments already impose restrictions and regulations on the internet, including censorship and taxation laws. China’s e-fetters are so many that it would probably prefer to do its own controlling rather than leaving it to a multilateral body. Nonetheless, that there was even a determined effort at UN control is a reminder that, one, internet freedom is now a crucial international issue and, two, there are areas where a multilateral political body like the UN should not tread.
New Delhi’s official policy is that it does not support the inclusion of the running of the internet in global telecommunications regulations. This stand is reasonable. Being a stable democracy, India does not fear political dissidents using the internet to overthrow the regime. But then why did it remain silent during the Dubai meeting? The sense is that India preferred to free ride on the tailcoats of the West. Given this is so obviously the right policy for India, this cravenness is only a further sign of India’s regression in the international sphere. Countries like Russia or Saudi Arabia who might be displeased if New Delhi had thumped the table, should have been told in clear terms that when India’s values and interests are so completely in convergence they should expect them to be expressed in public. Being quiet even on such a domestically noncontroversial area is not a diplomatic virtue.