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An Open Letter to the Prime Minister of India, from Within India, Through an Internet Blog

Hon’ Prime Minister,

Why would India table Proposal 98 for the work of the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference?

Contribution 98 wants the ITU to develop an IP address plan; wants it to be a contiguous IP address platform so as to enable the Governments to map and locate every Internet user; suggests that the ITU may coordinate the distribution of IP addresses accordingly; instructs the ITU Secretary General to develop policies for… naming, numbering and addressing which are [

already] systematic, equitable, [and, largely] fair; to develop policies for the allocation of IP addresses including naming, numbering and addressing [which are at present globally coordinated by ICANN by a multi-stakeholder process with intergovernmental advice that is far more open, far more participative, easier to work with than at the ITU

] and, instructs the Secretary General of the ITU to recommend a routing plan for traffic optimization that includes traceability of communications including the origin and terminating points. [Update: Oct 2014 – I received a helpful comment that IP addresses, though somewhat randomly allocated, could easily be listed on a per country basis by the Agencies. Existing filtering system does this with zero need to reallocate anything, with zero need for asking help from the wrong Conference. :) ]

There are various Security threats faced by the country which requires the Intelligence agencies to look for suspicious activity and monitor suspects, but these proposals at the ITU are disproportionately reactive and would pave way for surveillance measures aimed at the entire population, so these proposals are not good for India, not good for the Internet and the world we live in. I wonder if the PMO had time for a clear briefing on the real rationale and inevitable implications—for every nation on planet Earth—on these surveillance-centric proposals which also happen to be highly favorable to Telecom firms.

In the recent past, in Internet Governance forums, as India and a few other countries sought to introduce resolutions and proposals that might have been inadequately advised, such positions failed to attract support and in fact came under criticism by the global community of Internet users, business, academia and governments. India’s positions in Internet Governance do not arise from multi-stakeholder consultations or even as a fair reflection of what the Citizens would want by educated choice. They do not even arise from balanced political or administrative deliberations, possibly because, like in France or United States, multiple Ministerial/Administrative Departments seek to make Internet Policy. In India it is the Department of Electronics (Deity), Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and of late, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) - each of which include accomplished Administrators and Diplomats. Deity is familiar and has a certain degree of expertise in Internet Policy, but DoT’s policy space also seeks to extend beyond Telecommunications onto the Internet space, perhaps at the encouragement of some or all of the Telecom firms in India. MEA intervenes, apparently uncomfortable with the idea of multi-stakeholder approach, to emphatically insist on adherence to the multilateral diplomatic processes. (I must admit that these several points of view occur between ministries in many countries, so India is not alone here.)

This time, what’s concerning most is that it is done at the wrong forum, more than the content of the proposal introduced in the forum.

Internet Policy requires greater attention. The Prime Minister’s Office could pay attention with an increased, in-depth appreciation of the Internet Governance landscape as also pay attention to coordination of policy positions. The free and open Internet with its global design offers enormous opportunities for India to further its progress. The present framework of Internet Governance offers the highest hope for a level playing field. The easiest way to upset this eco-system is to be carried away by excessive arguments in the name of security, align with states that are inclined to balkanize the global Internet or to align with telecom firms to promote policies that would enhance their revenues.

Some—not all—telecom firms in India, as also in many other countries, operate with business models that are not so easily understood. Telecom customers stay trapped within networks that offer complex and varying billing plans, immune by legitimate arrangements with BPOs that shield the executive from the consumer, in an environment where consumer law does not prevail strong enough, all factors combined together invariably to result in maximized revenue per user, maximized in relatively small sums per user for hundreds of millions of dollars per month per network in unseen and unchallenged excess revenue in a country where there are a billion connections. Some—and not all—of these telecom firms would like to perpetuate their legacy and expand their sphere of operation by fully bringing Internet under their fold :)

Combine these business aspirations of telecom operators with that of the government’s insatiable desire for total control over the entire population by every conceivable means of surveillance, overt and covert, warranted and unwarranted, what results is a telecom + law&order partnership to bring the Internet under the ITU which is surveillance friendly, closed and conveniently Intergovernmental.

This would do great harm. To the Internet. To the people. To the country. And to the world.

The coordination of names and numbers works well while subtle concerns are continuously addressed, and in the broader sphere, there may be some finer imbalances in Internet Governance today to be addressed and adjusted. But, in order to achieve a balance in the shortest possible time, it would be wiser to work from within the present Internet Governance framework which is so open. A very effective way for India and the developing countries to participate in Internet Governance (and by extension, in global governance) is either to stay non-aligned or to align with the right forces despite some areas of concern, rather than to team up with the anti-Internet voices. The developing nations could work to advance the balance from within the Internet Governance process rather than by contrary proposals to invent anything new that is bound to be oppressive. With a fair position, India would not only address its own national concerns, but could inspire several other states that already trust India.

For Internet Policy, the Prime Minister of India could emulate India’s foreign policy and the non-confrontationistic approach from a hundred years ago rather than adopt provocative stances prompted by recent history.

By Sivasubramanian M, Proprietor, Nameshop

Views expressed here are those of the author’s only. Sivasubramanian Muthusamy also contributes to the Wealthy World weblog located here.

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