India finds itself in centre of Internet governance controversy… Again

India has put a lot of effort into Internet governance lately.

There’s been its work since 2006 to have a National Internet Registry of India established, its input into the UN’s December 2010 enhanced cooperation consultations, its detailed proposal submitted (late) to the March 2011 meeting of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development Working Group on improvements to the IGF (CSTD WG), and its participation in draft IBSA recommendations on Internet governance in September 2011.

Then, at the end of September, at the Internet Governance Forum Critical Internet Resources main session, India explained the reasons it had participated in the initial drafting of IBSA’s Internet governance recommendations earlier in the month. In brief, India explained that IBSA countries were concerned that developing countries weren’t able to participate on an equal footing in the current Internet governance system. India’s representative, Tulika Pandey, finished by stating:

    “This is yet a very initial process of a thought process which has caused this. I’m very happy that people have awoken. They’re looking at India and Brazil and South Africa. We suddenly are in the center of the IGF. We are happy about it.”

Move forward a month, and after India’s intervention at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Second Committee on October 26, India is, yet again, in the centre of Internet governance discussions around the world.

India’s speech to the Second Committee provided a detailed proposal for how it would like Internet governance to be formalised at the UN level. Under India’s proposal, 50 Member States of the UN would form a Committee for Internet-Related Policies (CIRP) that would meet for a fortnight each year in Geneva and report directly to the UNGA. Non-Member State stakeholders in Internet governance would participate via Advisory Groups that provide recommendations to the CIRP. CIRP would not replace IGF, but would take input from it. A research wing would be attached to CIRP to provide members with the detailed information and analysis of Internet issues needed for their deliberations. Oh, and CIRP is to be fully funded by the UN.

India’s suggestions, first made public in detail via an article on .nxt, resulted in a wave of hand wringing in Internet governance circles. See, for example, the October archives of the Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus mailing list. Milton Mueller’s article, A United Nations Committee for Internet-Related Policies? A fair assessment, also expressed concern about the details of India’s proposal.

But it is very important to note that India’s proposal detailed in their Second Committee speech has not appeared as a draft resolution. (Note that it is possible that it has been submitted as a formal draft resolution and just hasn’t appeared on the UN website yet.) So why is there so much consternation about a proposal that hasn’t been submitted as a formal draft resolution? After all, in its current form, a speech by a Member State (yes, even a speech that comes with an annex), it can’t go anywhere.

My totally subjective personal opinion is that the anguish is being exacerbated by two factors: a) ongoing suspicion between various participants in the Internet governance ecosystem and b) amnesia about India’s previous statements expressing similar sentiments.

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF), where the focus is on open discussion and exchange rather than decisions, is a great way to address the first factor and has gone a long way to dispel suspicions about different Internet governance participants’ motives. But the only way to address the second factor, amnesia about India’s previous proposals, is to jog people’s memories.

Similarities between India’s 2011 UNGA Second Committee and 2010 Enhanced Cooperation consultation statements

In December 2010, India’s statement at open consultations on Enhanced Cooperation called for a Working Group to be created under the CSTD to develop the “possible institutional design and roadmap for enhanced cooperation in consultation with all stakeholders, and […] submit its report to the UN General Assembly in 2011”.

Move on almost a year, and with no UN follow-up on its suggestion, India tries again—this time at the Second Committee—having developed its own ideas about the institutional design of the enhanced cooperation body. Below, are similar sentiments India has expressed in its statements made less than a year apart:

1. It’s been X years since the Tunis Agenda, and no action yet

In 2010, India has expressed its view that despite the Internet’s increasingly important role in the world, the Tunis Agenda mandate for enhanced cooperation had not come to fruition. A year later, feeling that nothing had changed, India’s 2011 UNGA speech restates its concerns and refers to a greater range of Tunis Agenda paragraphs to support its views.

From the 2011 UNGA Second Committee contribution:

Indeed, this was already recognized and mandated by the Tunis Agenda in 2005, as reflected in paragraphs 34, 35, 56, 58, 59, 60, 61 and 69 of the Agenda. Regrettably, in the six long years that have gone by, no substantial initiative has been taken by the global community to give effect to this mandate. […] Meanwhile, the internet has grown exponentially in its reach and scope, throwing up several new and rapidly emerging challenges in the area of global internet governance that continue to remain inadequately addressed.

From the 2010 enhanced cooperation speech:

The Tunis Agenda of 2005 recognized the need for enhanced cooperation “to enable governments, on an equal footing, to carry out their roles and responsibilities, in international public policy issues pertaining to the internet” and mandated the UN Secretary-General to start the process towards Enhanced Cooperation by the first quarter of 2006. Almost five years later, we are yet to meaningfully discuss or operationalise the enhanced cooperation process. […] In the meantime, the reach and influence of the internet on public policy issues has grown dramatically.

2. Democracy, openness, inclusiveness, transparency

A lot of the same values appear in India’s two big Internet governance speeches of 2010 and 2011. Openness, inclusion, transparency are all ideals supported by the many stakeholders in Internet governance.

“Multilateral”, which appears in both the 2010 and 2011 speeches, rings alarm bells for many, but unfortunately, that term appears in black and white in paragraph 29—the first paragraph about Internet governance—of the Tunis Agenda. No matter how much people object to governments like India and Brazil using the term, the governmental practice of quoting exact words and phrases from previously adopted UN documents will continue. The lesson? No word in a resolution is ever unimportant. Those weasel words agreed to late at night to get a resolution through will bite you down the line.

From the 2011 UNGA Second Committee contribution:

We believe that the governance of such an unprecedented global medium that embodies the values of democracy, pluralism, inclusion, openness and transparency should also be similarly inclusive, democratic, participatory, multilateral and transparent in nature.

From the 2010 enhanced cooperation speech:

Indeed, the Internet today is universally acknowledged as a powerful catalyst for democracy, openness, inclusion and democratic values like liberty and equality. It is therefore paradoxical that the governance of such a phenomenal global force that transcends borders and welds peoples and communities across national borders, continues to lack equitable representation, transparency and inclusiveness at the international level. It is time for global internet governance to be conducted in line with established UN principles and universally accepted tenets of multilateralism.

3. A CSTD WG to work out details of enhanced cooperation/Internet public policy body

India continues to call for CSTD to develop a roadmap for their proposed UN process on enhanced cooperation. But a year on from its 2010 enhanced cooperation speech, India acknowledges that a year wouldn’t be long enough to develop such a roadmap and moves it to an 18-month timeline. My experience with the CSTD WG on improvements to the IGF suggests that an 18-month timeline for discussing the even more contentious idea of enhanced cooperation is incredibly optimistic.

From the 2011 UNGA Second Committee contribution:

In order to operationalize this proposal, India calls for the establishment of an open-ended working group under the Commission on Science and Technology for Development for drawing up the detailed terms of reference for CIRP, with a view to actualizing it within the next 18 months. We are open to the views and suggestions of all Member States, and stand ready to work with other delegations to carry forward this proposal, and thus seek to fill the serious gap in the implementation of the Tunis Agenda, by providing substance and content to the concept of Enhanced Co-operation enshrined in the Tunis Agenda.

From the 2010 enhanced cooperation speech:

We, therefore, propose that an inter-governmental working group be established under the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), which is the designated focal point in the UN system-wide follow up to the outcomes of the WSIS. The Working Group should be mandated to prepare a report on the possible institutional design and roadmap for enhanced cooperation in consultation with all stakeholders, and asked to submit its report to the UN General Assembly in 2011. The Working Group should also take into account inputs from all international organizations including the ITU, and should recommend on the feasibility and desirability of placing the Enhanced Cooperation mechanism with an existing international organization or recommend establishing a new body for dealing with Enhanced Cooperation, along with a clear roadmap for the process.

Similarities between India’s 2011 UNGA Second Committee and other processes

India’s 2011 statement is also informed by processes and decisions that have taken place in other forums.

In both India’s 2011 statement and the recent ITU Council decision about the Working Group on international Internet-related Public Policy Issues, Member State committees/working groups consider inputs from non-Member States. In other words, the Member States can choose to discard the input if they feel it is not relevant to their deliberations. However, before feeling outraged that the proposed CIRP wouldn’t consider non-governments stakeholders as equal partners in a multistakeholder Internet, please do not forget that this isn’t so different to how a number of Internet organizations currently operate. For example, the ICANN Board considers the advice of its Advisory Committees, but ultimately has to make decisions that may contradict some of the input from ICANN’s various stakeholder Advisory Committees.

From the 2011 UNGA Second Committee contribution:

Links with the IGF: Recognizing the value of the Internet Governance Forum as an open, unique forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue on Internet issues, the deliberations in the IGF along with any inputs, background information and analysis it may provide, will be taken as inputs for consideration of the CIRP.

Compare this to the 2011 ITU Council resolution on Working Group on international Internet-related Public Policy Issues:

[The Working Group will] initiate and conduct open consultations with all stakeholders in an open and inclusive manner; and the output of the open consultations will be presented for consideration in deliberations of the Council Working Group.

India’s suggestion in the 2011 UNGA Second Committee speech that the CIRP be funded by the UN is in keeping with India’s proposal earlier this year that the IGF be funded by the UN. From the 2011 UNGA contribution:

Budget: Like other UN bodies, the CIRP should be supported by the regular budget of the United Nations. In addition, keeping in view its unique multi-stakeholder format for inclusive participation, and the need for a well-resourced Research Wing and regular meetings, a separate Fund should also be set up drawing from the domain registration fees collected by various bodies involved in the technical functioning of the Internet, especially in terms of names and addresses.

From India’s contribution to the CSTD WG on improvements to the IGF:

The accepted norm worldwide is that policy forums can function independently only when they are based on public funding. Indeed, it would be unthinkable for our national policy level institutions to have private funding. In the case of the IGF, this would mean a transition to full UN funding. In addition to predictable and budgeted UN funding, voluntary contributions can be allowed, as is the practice in many UN agencies.

The future of the CIRP proposal

Will India raise its CIRP proposal at next week’s CSTD WG on IGF improvements? I hope not. First, because one of the agreements between CSTD Member States in negotiating the extension of the WG was that no new material be admitted for the WG’s deliberations. Only the discussions and contributions received up until the end of the second CSTD WG in February were to be considered during the WG’s extension through to 2012. Introducing this CIRP proposal to the IGF WG would lead to my second reason for hoping it is not raised: it has taken up until now for the WG members to develop a reasonable level of trust amongst each other. For the new CIRP proposal to be introduced, when India was amongst the Member States who agreed not to introduce new materials, would return the WG to the levels of mutual distrust shown during the first CSTD WG meeting. And this level of mistrust would dash any hopes of reaching agreement on a report of proposed improvements for the IGF. I believe that India’s intentions in the WG are sincere, and I believe that it will honour the Member States’ agreement not to introduce new material to the WG.

While there is, as yet, no formal UNGA draft resolution by India on the proposal, given its past positions on Internet governance, it is highly likely that permutations of the proposal will be presented again in future. It is possible that if India doesn’t feel that the UNGA is listening to its concerns, it will take them to other UN agencies that are holding Internet-related discussions. And which UN agency is holding the greatest number of Internet-related discussions over the coming few years? The ITU. Will India raise its CIRP proposal at ITU’s WCIT 2012, WTPF 2013, or WSIS+10? Possibly.

If not the ITU, as the CSTD has WSIS-related outcomes as one of its activities, and given the role India proposes CSTD play in the formation of the CIRP, perhaps a variation of the CIRP proposal may turn up at CSTD or ECOSOC in 2012.

One thing we can be sure of, CIRP, or its offspring, will turn up at some UN-related forum again in the future.