The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) is organising an ICT (Information and Communications Technology) Working Group meeting between India and USA on September 30 and October 1, a senior official at MeitY told MediaNama. MeitY Secretary Ajay Prakash Sawhney will attend the event on behalf of Government of India, while Robert L. Strayer, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Cyber and International Communications and Information Policy from the US Department of State will be here from USA.

The venue and agenda for the meeting are still being finalised. MediaNama has reached out to the US Department of State for comment.

MediaNama has also learnt that the Cyber Dialogue between the two countries will be held on the morning of September 30. The Fifth US-India Cyber Dialogue was held in New Delhi in 2016. Considering that the last two Cyber Dialogues saw attendance from the then National Cyber Security Coordinators and other members of the Indian National Security Council, it is highly likely that Lt Gen. (Dr) Rajesh Pant, the current National Cyber Security Coordinator, will be present at the dialogue along with other members of the NSC.

The India-US ICT Working Group (ICTWG) was established in 2005 to discuss issues related to cyber security, privacy, cross-border data flows and internet governance between two countries. After 2005, the ICTWG met for a workshop in January 2015 in Washington, DC. The WG met again in September 2016.

Data localisation, Make in India, 5G, CLOUD: Key ICT issues for the Working group to consider

Data localisation has emerged as a thorny issue between the Indian government, and American financial and technological firms. While New Delhi has been pushing for it, American companies, including Mastercard, Visa, and Amazon, have been aggressively lobbying against it. India’s draft e-commerce policy that seeks to protect Indian e-commerce players has irked Washington. At the same time, India is trying to court global electronics manufacturers to export from India and turn India into an export hub.

India has been insisting on data localisation for economic and law enforcement reasons. As a result, the Indian government may push for an executive agreement under the American Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act (CLOUD Act) which will allow Indian law enforcement agencies faster access to data than via an MLAT (mutual legal assistance treaty).

As India looks to carry out 5G trials, Huawei may also crop up as a bone of contention. While the US Department of Commerce put Huawei on trade blacklist for compromising American national security which resulted in Google pulling Huawei’s Android licence, India has received a proposal for 5G trials from Huawei that it is considering. Huawei is even ready to sign a “no back door” pact with India. And China had threatened India with reverse sanctions if Huawei was blocked from doing business in the country.

  • In a September 2019 meeting with ICT manufacturers, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad promised all support to global electronics’ manufacturing companies, and cited Apple’s recent scaling up of manufacturing operations in India as an example.
  • In August 2019, the Union Cabinet relaxed FDI norms in India to encourage manufacturing within the country.
  • In July 2019, at the G20 Summit, India refused to sign the Osaka Declaration on Digital Economy that sought to promote cross-border data flows.
  • In June 2019, there were media reports, which were later refuted by the US Department of State, that US had told India that it was considering a 15% cap on H-1B work visas for nations that mandate data localisation.
  • In May 2019, on his visit to India, US Trade Secretary Wilbur Ross had criticised data localisation restrictions in India that increase the cost of doing business for American companies.
  • In March 2019, US President Donald Trump announced USA’s intention to terminate India’s trade privileges as a beneficiary developing country under the Generalised System of Preference (GSP) programme for lack of ‘equitable and reasonable access to its [Indian] markets’.