Thursday, October 02, 2014

Global Policy publishes my Issue Brief on Internet Governance + India

The Observer Research Foundation’s Mahima Kaul unpacks India’s approach to internet global governance.

Governments around the world seem to be straddling the dichotomy the internet has brought into our lives: the endless possibilities of innovation, commerce, expression, big data, along with the challenges of cyber crime, security, disinformation and surveillance. The weight given to each of these outlooks ends up determining a governments approach towards internet governance. And since global internet governance itself is distributed across various foras, governments are free to change their strategy to suit their outlook, depending on the topic being discussed. The same government might approach the management of critical resources with a strict nationalistic outlook, yet look to forge agreements on cyber crime bilaterally, create norms of state behavior multilaterally, and discuss human rights and free expression via a multistakeholder process. This is also the reason that democracies need not necessarily agree on global governance mechanisms even if they converge on values.

It must be kept in mind that the internet has fundamentally changed over the years. Its potential to cross barriers and serve as a platform for the free exchange of goods and knowledge remains immense, and some of those who have seen the development of the internet from its inception are fighting bitterly to keep it such. But, the reality is that is not quite the version of the internet that many new users experience. They have inherited an internet fraught with crime such as hate speech and cyber bullying, it is an internet where net neutrality is being threatened in the very country that created it, an online world where big corporations are pushing stringent intellectual property regimes and where ‘free trade’ over the internet seems to be a well crafted narrative to promote the supremacy of US companies. Navigating these waters, for people and governments alike, can be complex.
Currently, the US dominates the global internet governance architecture and pushes a multistakeholder system that banks on the participation and maturity of all stakeholders. Countries like India, tiptoeing into many of these foras, do not share the same enthusiasm for these governance mechanisms. The vast majority of Indian citizens are not yet online. In fact, the Indian government is most concerned about the current management structure of critical internet resources, the uncoordinated national approaches to determine cyber jurisdiction over transactions that span multiple territories, and ensuring universal access through affordable (and secure) devices. With this background, it can be understood why the world’s most diverse democracy has resisted “multistakeholderism” as a global governance mechanism, a system inherently democratic in its description, but not yet suited to its objectives.

Yet, for a people famously called argumentative by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, Indians have been curiously lacking in explanations about these particular decisions. The international press, confused by the government of India’s contrarian views, simplistically bunches it along with authoritarian countries who oppose the US’s global governance framework.

The below Issue Brief attempts to unpack India’s approach to global governance, and its attempt to seek a new global governance paradigm:

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