Internet governance and the debate surrounding it has taken some major steps in the past year or so. The Snowden revelations have intensified and given new life to the otherwise very sterile The consequences have been both direct and indirect. Government surveillance is not the only topic being discussed at global forums right now. Net neutrality, privacy and the IANA transition are are among the mix as well.
Internet governance is a grand stew of conflicting opinions. Governments all over the world along with other stakeholders have not been shy in having their say. We know where many nations stand on several issues, but surprisingly two nations – India and Japan ,which can have great influence, have been rather quiet.
The NETmundial conference called on people from the world for their opinions on the future of the world in the form of contributions that were used to draft the outcome document. There were a total of seven and four contributions from India and Japan respectively.
The breakdown of these contributions was as follows :
Civil society – 4
Government – 1
Private sector -2
Civil society – 2
Technical community – 1
Private sector – 1
These numbers are appalling. Japan is a globally recognised ICT leader and is expected to be making significant contributions. Other nations like Russia, China and United States, which can potentially influence global Internet governance, had a concrete stance and were very vocal during the proceedings at the conference. To put things into perspective, 11 contributions were made from the private sector of United States alone.
India, a nation boasting 243 million Internet users and a growth rate of 14% in 2013, can not afford to not be involved in the discussion. Declared as a global Internet swing state by the Centre for International Governance Innovation, India has to step up and take lead in shaping up the the future of Internet.
Japan and India both voiced their support for multistakeholderism principles, but India backed out of the final outcome document, complaining that some principles proposed by Indian government were ignored. The Indian representative,Vinay Kwatra, an officer from the Ministry of External Affairs, also stated that the outcome paper should only be treated as a discussion paper. Many were surprised by India’s decision and could not comprehend the exact reasons because many principles supported by India were actually present in the final outcome paper.
Participation from these two countries at other forums has also come under a lot of criticism lately. Japan and India have had their fair share of participation from the technical community at ICANN meetings, but any sort of policy contribution has been very limited. Reportedly there were no official diplomatic representatives from India at ICANN 50 held in London, UK. The only official participants were from National Internet Exchange of India and Department of Electronics and Information Technology, and there were not any significant policy contributions from them as well.
Whereas, China, which has significant differences with ICANN beliefs, was represented by its Minister for Cyberspace Affairs Administration, who also addressed the gathering at the opening ceremony.
IGF for a long time has been the sole platform for discussing all Internet governance issues. Once again, there was no participation from Indian ministries at the IGF 2013 held in Bali, Indonesia. However, When APrIGF 2014 was held in New Delhi, there was a welcoming change that promoted a greater discussion in India.
Japan has also not been well represented at IGF. Moreover, the multistakeholder community in Japan have been very active domestically as well. IGF is a unique platform connecting all concerned stakeholders and is also the center of the discussions. Participation from Japan and India needs to increase and more stakeholders need to get involved.
As ICANN looks to globalise and undergo major transitions, it is absolutely vital that Japan and India get involved. Many aspects of ICANN will be changing in the next year. It presents an excellent opportunity for both nations to get their concerns and thoughts reflected in new ICANN model. Before Japan and India can proceed in participating in the progress, fixed stances need to be taken and ambiguous policies need to eliminated. ICANN CEO Fadi, during his visit to Tokyo in 2014, emphasized the importance of the role Japan will be playing in shaping the future of ICANN and Internet in Asia and the world.
The newly formed NETmundial initiative, a joint effort by the the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI.br), the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the World Economic Forum (WEF), aims to “facilitate ‘crowd-sourcing’ of enablers and solutions from the global community; and energize ‘crowd-funding’ and multistakeholder partnership to support the further development and wider application of enablers and solutions to address issues of global Internet governance.”
The NETmundial initiative coordination council, a 25 member strong committee, was announced to lead the initiative. Nominations and self-nominations for formation of the council were invited, and a total of 41 nominations were received.
From the final list of 25 members, Asia and Oceania is represented by representatives from China (2), Japan, and Australia. India, a country holding strong views for the future for the internet, has no representatives in the council. Even though the initiative will be open and participatory, not having any member from India in the council is a real miss. Given only 4 members from Asia and Oceania would make the council, it’s understandable that it is hard to make the council, but no one from India was present in the initial 41 nominations as well meaning no one from India self nominated or was nominated.
Out of the 41 nominations received, there were two nominations for representatives from China and Japan. From Asia and Oceania, there was a nomination from both the Japanese and the Chinese government along with the nomination from UAE for the seat allocated for Governments and Intergovernmental Organizations. Wei Lu from the Cyberspace Administration of China was preferred over Yasuo Sakamoto from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. A country which resents multistakehodlerism was able to get two representatives on a council of an initiative which is built upon multistakeholderism principles. Whereas a global ICT leader and a supporter of multistakeholderism, Japan could only get one seat, which clearly reflects the weakness of Japanese domestic internet governance processes and the scale of Chinese dominance. Japan is not able to apply the same principles it voices support for at global forums. There is a serious lack of understanding within the Japanese government of how the current global debate could potentially impact Japan’s economic and security scenario with respect to the Internet.
Even though the council will not have any real power, in alignment with the initiative, it is being viewed as the UN Security Council of the Internet due to high profile names involved and bagging more seats especially one over China would have definitely helped Japan’s cause.
The future of the Internet will be shaped according to the developments in the next few years and every country is expected to make valuable contributions. As it stands, Japan and India, two highly influential nations holding great potential for different reasons, have been largely ineffective and absent from the process. Lack of an effective domestic framework has hampered Japan. Ministries are divided, laws are vague and there is very little co-operation among between stakeholders. Russia, China and the Middle East are opposed to the concept of a global Internet, it is up to Japan and India to take lead in Asia and facilitate the adoption of a similar mode by other countries by setting an example. Platforms need to be built within these countries to foster the values needed to cope up with these changes and participation at global forums needs to increase as well. Aligned with United States, Japan and India share similar values and have developed a great relationship over the years. It’s not an easy task, but the fate of the Internet and these countries lie in their own hands.