In a bold move, the Narendra Modi government has agreed to support the multi-stakeholder model for internet governance. That’s a markedly different approach from the UPA government, which preferred to opt for a multilateral approach, where only governments working through bodies such as the United Nations can take decisions on such issues. This change in approach was clearly amplified at the Buenos Aires conference on Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), in a video message by information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. He stated: “India recognises that all stakeholders are key and multi-stakeholderism is perhaps the only way to keep the system integrated, growing and expanding.”
Under the multi-stakeholder model, there are mechanisms for the private sector and civil society to work along with governments in the decision-making process on the internet. That’s definitely progressive since, under the government model, many nations would look to restrict freedom of the people to use the internet. Thanks to its earlier stance, India despite being the world’s largest democracy was clubbed with authoritarian states such as China, Iran and Russia which imposed curbs on internet usage for their citizens. With this decision, India seems to have moved away from the isolationist policies that it followed earlier. That’s sensible.
The timing too is right since the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) transition process has gained momentum. IANA is the ICANN department responsible for operating key databases for global identifiers such domain names, number resources and protocol assignments. To counter the criticism over its monopoly over critical internet resources, the US has been working to transfer control of internet governance from the US to a multi-stakeholder system. The IANA plan could create the mechanism to move from the US government in the middle of 2016.
That’s why it is important that India, a key player on the internet, should be well-aligned with global policies so that its citizens can reap the benefits of the internet in the future. This move could create a split within the BRIC grouping, since now India and Brazil are on the same side of the debate as the western world. Russia and China prefer the governmental model for obvious reasons. It remains to be seen how this would affect the BRIC unity in other forums. All said, it’s time India started looking at taking such decisions from its own perspective.