Event ReportsPublished on Feb 21, 2015
With the new government in New Delhi, there is a renewed interest in internet and internet governance in India, according Mr. Thomas Dukes, US Deputy Coordinator for Cyber Affairs. He said the Digital India initiative has been revived and the Government's interest and investment in furthering it is clearly visible.
Renewed interest in internet governance in New Delhi: US cyber official

With the new government in New Delhi, there is a renewed interest in internet and internet governance in India, said Mr. Thomas Dukes, US Deputy Coordinator for Cyber Affairs, during a discussion on "Cyber Perspectives: Deepening the India-US Relationship" at Observer Research Foundation on February 12.

Mr. Thomas Dukes noted that the Digital India initiative has been revived and the Government’s interest and investment in furthering it is clearly visible. Mr. Dukes began by focussing on the India-US joint statement which touched upon India-US cyber issues and possibilities for collaboration. He also mentioned the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, issued by President Obama. Mr. Dukes stated that this strategy was framed as an international strategy and that the US views its relationship with India as a critical global partnership -- which is just bilateral as well as multilateral.

Dr. Kamlesh Bajaj, CEO, Data Security Council of India, reiterated the importance of the India-US joint statement by saying that it is indeed an extremely positive step. However, he emphasized the need to further strengthen ties to build trust between the two nations in order to achieve successful cyberspace collaborations.

He added that the dialogues and debates on internet governance now need to focus on deliverables and policy issues in governance and cyber-space need to be tackled head on. The present legal framework in India does not fully support e-commerce, internet governance and data localization. The Government must see that cyberspace initiatives don’t impinge on national security issues. It also needs to be seen that the emergence of e-commerce does not harm the local traders but at the same time, policies must not deter digitalization.

Mr. Rajan Mathews, Director General, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), spoke about the need to recognise the uniqueness of the Indian market while formulating global cyber-space frameworks. He stated that in 2014, 300 million handsets were sold in India; this implies the likelihood of all internet technology being driven by the mobile handset in future. Interestingly, in India’s rural base, 95% of subscribers are pre-paid and about 30% of the recharge amount does not exceed Rs.10. These are globally, among the cheapest rates and these aspects of the Indian market must be considered.

Mr. Mathews highlighted the present government’s vision to ensure that connectivity reaches all villages in India. The IT Act of India also believes that anything that can be digitized and put on the internet ought to be. He added that e-health and e-education in India can play huge roles in the future. Cloud-computing can be another opportunity. The digital initiative of India can go hand in hand with the smart cities initiative as well. Digital penetration is expected to increase in India and the government will have to come up with new cyber policies that don’t compromise on security, but also don’t stifle innovation. He concluded by giving an example of the 50 crore penalty applied to telecom operators if there’s a security violation. He stated that while security is of prime importance, such laws serve to deter smaller businesses from entering the market. He suggested that India-specific security norms do more harm than good and the government must be aware of transfer-pricing issues. If globally enunciated security standards can be accepted by India, things would be easier.

Mr. Saad Ahmed, Head of Marketing, Delhi, Uber briefly spoke of the companies experience in the Indian market. He stated that Uber wants to be regulated, but in the right way. In the present framework, the Transport Department would regulate a radio taxi company like Uber under the Motor Vehicles Act 1988. However, Mr. Ahmed established that what the company needs to be regulated in is the IT Act. He further shared Uber’s approach to security unique to the Indian market and the company’s experiences in sharing data with the government.

Mr. Arvinder Gujral, Head of Business Development, Twitter shared the social media giant’s experience in the Indian market. He insisted that Twitter tries to comply with the government wherever security is concerned. Mr. Gujral added that twitter generates billions of tweets every day, that’s big data. The tweets also have the advantage of travelling faster than other forms of media. In the future, Twitter may become an essential tool in gather news, elections and governance. He concluded by stating that in cyberspace, too many things are happening too fast and the government and infrastructure need to keep pace.

Earlier, Ms. Mahima Kaul, Head of the Cyber and Media Initiative at ORF, who moderated the discussion, said that the timing of the discussion was particularly interesting due to the recent goodwill momentum set in India-US relations. She said both countries now face an enormous pressure to deliver on the talks. Further, given India’s ambitious digital prospects, there may be many opportunities for collaboration -- such as exchanging ideas on best practices in broadband, ICT and internet governance. However, achieving these goals will not be simple due to India’s gigantic market and huge regional variations, she said.

Responding to a question raised during the discussion, Ms Elizabeth Bacon, Telecommunications Policy Specialist with the NTIA, said that there should be no fatigue with the multistakeholder process as has been expressed by some, because the US government considers the IANA transition deadline quite tight, and is willing to extend it if the community needs it.

Other discussants included Mr. Krishnan Jagannathan, Business Security Advisor, Emerging Markets, IBM; and Mr. Justin Fair, Cyber Policy Officer, U.S. Department of State. They shared their experiences of balancing cyberspace freedom and security concerns and the drawbacks, scope and possibilities of global policies for regulation.

(This report is prepared by Vidisha Mishra, Research Assistant, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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