Event ReportsPublished on Jan 22, 2014
Experts at a conference on "Internet Governance and India: The Way Forward" have unanimously agreed that "anonymity" in cyber world is important for protection of dissenting voices. They also accepted that internet stands on three basic tenets of openness, freedom, universality.
'Anonymity' in cyber world important for protecting dissenting voices

Experts at a conference on "Internet Governance and India: The Way Forward" have unanimously agreed that "anonymity" in cyber world is important for protection of dissenting voices.

All of them also accepted that internet stands on three basic tenets of openness, freedom, universality. There was a consensus amongst themselves on the multi-stakeholder model for internet governance.

The speakers - Ms Subi Chaturvedi, Assistant Professor Journalism & Communication, LSR College for Women & Founder Trustee Media for Change; Dr. Anja Kovacs, Director, Internet Democracy Project, Delhi; and Mr Virat Bhatia, Chairman, FICCI Communications & Digital Economy Committee and President, IEA AT&T, South Asia - participating in the conference organised by Observer Research Foundation in Delhi on January 22, 2014.

Ms Chaturvedi applauded the Internet Governance Forum as a unique platform giving voices to many, and responding to the important questions of the day. Explaining the need for the multi-stakeholder forum, IGF, Ms Chaturvedi said that the IGF framework grew out of the realisation that governments and inter-governmental organisations alone were not capable of looking at the wide array of challenges that internet governance poses today. Further, emphasising on the uniqueness of this framework, she pointed out its best feature is that participation is open to everyone, including government representation. Also, issues particular to the region where the annual conference is held take prominence at the meet, and local civil society organisations play a vital role it putting up the event together. Ms Chaturvedi, however, expressed disappointment at the lack of serious engagement by India at IGF.

Ms Chaturvedi spoke briefly on the eighth edition of the Internet Governance Forum held in Bali from 22nd October to 25th October, 2013, which saw representation from 111 countries and also saw the coming together of intergovernmental organisations, private sector, cyber experts and civil society groups to discuss internet governance related issues under the theme, "Building Bridges - Enhancing Multistakeholder Cooperation for Growth and Sustainable Development". Edward Snowden and surveillance formed a major part of the discussions, which according to Ms Chaturvedi is another reason why IGF is distinct as a forum, as there’s no other platform where issues like these could be discussed among multi-stakeholders. The governments in such forums can listen and be heard, and the other stake-holders are given an equal platform as the governments and intergovernmental organisations.

Ms Chaturvedi proposed that the youth needs to be represented more in public policy on internet governance, as India is a young nation and its young people are the end users. Public policy should be inclusive and not represent the voice of a particular ministry.

Comparing internet governance with telecom sector, she said that as far as the telecom sector is concerned, India’s had a reasonably successful story. But as far as internet governance is concerned, India is just about getting started.

Highlighting the democratic stage that internet provides, she said that out of the 2.4 billion global users of internet, 1.7 billion are women- thus cutting across gender biases.

Dr Anja Kovacs gave a brief history on the formation of IGF, which was the outcome of the two phases of the UN-led World Summit on the Information Society. The first phase took place in Geneva in 2003, and the second phase took place in Tunis in 2005, resulting in the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society calling for the establishment of the multi-stakeholder forum for policy dialogues on internet governance issues, the IGF. Other than the creation of IGF, the Agenda laid out the necessity to have "enhanced cooperation" for a bottom-up development of regional structures for addressing all the issues, as many developing countries threatened to withdraw from the dialogue in the absence of adequate representation, and the voice of developing countries in Internet governance is clearly linked to increased levels of participation from developing country stakeholders. In fact, in 2010, said Dr Kovacs, that the United Nations General Assembly voted in favour of the continuation of IGF for at least five more years on the condition by developing countries that there be enhanced cooperation at the IGF meetings. This was also the most important take-away at the Bali meet, last year.

Further, enunciating on the major achievements of IGF, Dr Kovacs said that the discussion on human rights has been one of the most important successes of IGF. The Bali meet, which coincided with the Edward Snowden surveillance revelations, held a separate session on human rights, freedom of expression and free flow of information on the internet. This was particularly important as for many years China which had staunchly opposed the inclusion of "human rights" as one of the themes of the main sessions at IGF, decided to engage with the system and continued to be a part of MAG (Multi-stakeholder Advisory Group).

Dr Kovacs too expressed her disappointment with the "extremely small" participation from India at IGF, Bali, as many developing countries look up to India’s engagement with internet-governance forums to ensure that the concerns of the developing world are not ignored during policy-making. She pointed to Brazil’s efforts in instituting a systemised public consultation mechanism, engaging the civil society and other stakeholders.

Examining the role of ICANN in internet governance, Dr Kocavs was of the view that as ICANN is one of the most important stakeholders, having a considerable hold over internet governance discussions, should see the IGF as the right avenue for debating and engaging with multi-stakeholders and especially the developing countries, who are not regular attendees at ICANN meetings.

Mr Virat Bhatia lauded internet for providing a fairly democratic space and enhancing gender balance. He said that as against fixed telephony and mobile telephony, women have adopted internet technology in lesser time, and they use it far more extensively.

Mr Bhatia was of the view that the internet will be governed quite differently in a few years from now, than it is governed today. He felt that the change in India was started about 18 months ago when India hosted the first ever-comprehensive multi-stakeholder conference on internet governance- India Internet Governance Conference, 2012, to provide a platform for inclusive policy dialogue; and MAG was formed as a first step to a National Internet Governance Forum.

On the nature and structure of the IGF, Mr Bhatia informed the audience that IGF is not a forum for decision-making, but it serves as a forum to pressurise policy making because it shifts discussions in a certain way. Therefore, while it could be a good forum to formulate a sound global policy on internet governance, the forum is strictly a forum for holding deliberations and making recommendations, and not for decision making.

Mr Bhatia hoped that like the existing three youth IGFs; 11 regional IGFs, including the Asia-Pacific IGF; and 25 active national IGFs, India too will have an IGF soon with the formation of MAG.

Highlighting the significance of the civil society in internet governance, Mr Bhatia referred to the Tunis Agenda, 2005 which, he said, legitimises the role for civil society including academia and technical community in internet governance issues, as "internet cannot be governed by governments in a closed room."

On India’s inclination to allow participation of multi-stakeholders in the advisory capacity but not during decision-making stage, and on India’s preference to have a UN body for internet governance, Mr Bhatia showed his scepticism saying that such a scenario was worrying as the common voices of the people would only be represented through their national governments. There are many countries that still have no consultation mechanism with civil society.

The conference was also attended by members from the government, industry, civil society and academia.

(This report is prepared by Garima Sahdev, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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