I confess – my first reaction to India’s proposal for setting up a United Nation Committee for Internet-Related Policies (UN CRP) was a negative one: I want governments to keep their hands off the Internet, and am worried about policies from the Indian government that impact civil liberties – they’ve put into places policies for snooping and censorship (IT Rules) and interception (Home Ministry Tender). So it’s hard to trust a proposal that suggests that their idea is not to ‘”control the internet” or allow Governments to have the last word in regulating the internet, but to make sure that the Internet is governed not unilaterally, but in an open, democratic, inclusive and participatory manner…’

The way we saw it, this was an attempt to dilute the role of the US in Internet governance but also increase government control of the Internet. The proposal suggests that the CIRP shall be mandated to undertake the following tasks:

– Develop and establish international public policies with a view to ensuring coordination and coherence in cross-cutting Internet-related global issues;
– Coordinate and oversee the bodies responsible for technical and operational functioning of the Internet, including global standards setting;
– Facilitate negotiation of treaties, conventions and agreements on Internet-related public policies;
– Address developmental issues related to the internet;
– Promote the promotion and protection of all human rights, namely, civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights, including the Right to Development;
– Undertake arbitration and dispute resolution, where necessary; and,
– Crisis management in relation to the Internet.

Pranesh Prakash of the Centre for Internet and Society, though, provides context to us that puts this proposal in an entirely different light. In an interview with MediaNama, he answered questions on what this proposal is trying to change, how real is the fear that governments are taking control of the Internet, and whether the Internet is free of government control right now:

MediaNama: Is this diluting the role of the US in Internet Governance?

Pranesh Prakash: IANA, the body that controls the DNS system, right now, is controlled by ICANN. The US Government is going to put out the tender call for renewal of this contract the next couple of days, and a part of the requirement is that the company that runs that should be US based. In 1998, the US Dept of commerce unilaterally assumed control of the system creating ICANN, and it gave only two contracts – to the IANA and ICANN, and gave the contract for running IANA to ICANN. It did that because the Internet and the WWW were becoming commercially important. This was also happening at a time when people like Jon Postel for a brief while removed the root server control out of the US governments control.

Now that the Internet is much more international, how can the US control the contract? Why should the control of the DNS system be given by the US? That is the main problem, and the decisions are made in the US, and don’t reflect the international position. Hopefully, this proposal by the Indian government will change that.

MediaNama: So what does the Indian government’s suggestion change?

Pranesh Prakash: The possibility is that nothing much changes, and it becomes a recommendatory body (read more), and what it means in terms of effect cannot be predicted right now. One of the first things that has been suggested is that there will be a 18 month process during which a separate body comes up with a list of what exactly the CIRP will do. All of that isn’t clear right now.

MediaNama: What about the fear that governments are taking control of the Internet?

Pranesh Prakash: Currently, that fear is misplaced. However, multi-stakeholder-ism isn’t represented well enough in the Indian proposal and it could be better. I don’t think that this is an attempt by the Indian government or governments to take over the Internet. It is providing too much centrality to governments as things stand, and that can be made better, but the status quo is worse than what the proposal.

MediaNama: Is the Internet really free of government control right now?

Pranesh Prakash: No it isn’t. The fact is that the Egyptian government could cut the off Internet, and in every country that there is censorship of the Internet.

One argument that people make is that the US is a benevolent country, you don’t want some of the others like Syria and China to have control of the Internet. I don’t think so. Right now, there are laws proposed in the House and the Senate in the US, which change things for the whole world. Laws such as PROTECT IP. These laws are unlike any other regulation proposed by the government so far. Any other law which controls the Internet affects only the people in that country alone, not the rest of the world. These laws allow for DNS seizures. Anyone who uses .com, .net or .org will get affected, even if they’re not American or their server is not located in the US. This kind of unilateral proposals… I can’t remember it being done anywhere else.

The worst part is that even before these laws, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement department has started seizing domain names, and the US courts have upheld their legality. Read Unprecedented domain seizure shutters 84,000 sites. A Spanish website ruled to be legal in Spain, also had its domain name seized in the US, and it’s seizure was ruled to be legal. In comparison, even in Egypt, when they cut the Internet, they made sure that the traffic that passed through Egypt was untouched. The US proposal allows for non-US citizens to denied access to non-US content. You can go for a .in instead of a .com, but this has a bad effect on the whole world.

Also read: India finds itself in centre of Internet governance controversy… Again