By Gangesh Varma
Last week, on 18th April, 2016, a Joint Communique of the 14th Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Russia, India and China (RIC) raised a few eyebrows. The subject of discussion is paragraph 12 of the Communique which deals with the use of Information & Communication Technologies (ICTs) including the internet and its governance.
Four Key Aspects of Paragraph 12
There are four key aspects that can be gleaned from the text of this paragraph. First, the abuse of ICTs (including the internet) in violation of United Nations Charter and international law, “for terrorism and other criminal purposes”. Second, the need for countering such abuse by strengthening cooperation, and developing an international treaty for addressing such use of ICT for criminal purposes. Third, the adherence to universally recognized principles of international law in the use of ICTs. Fourth, the development of the Internet, and its governance regime.
The first issue is common to all countries, and does not have polarizing responses. The abuse of ICTs and the internet for organized crime, terrorist activities etc. are concerns that required more international cooperation. While the second issue on the need for an international treaty to address cyber-crimes or use of ICTs for criminal purposes is one that has been subject to extensive debate. While Europe has the Budapest Convention addressing this issue, most other countries have to manoeuvre through bilateral Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLAT). There has been a long-standing demand for a universal treaty to address cybercrime ever since the regional Budapest Convention materialised.
The third aspect, in the text of the Communique is reference to adherence of universally recognized principles of international law in the use of ICTs such as:
“… the principles of political independence, territorial integrity and sovereign equality of states, respect for state sovereignty, non-intervention into the internal affairs of other states”.
These principles are focused on the state, however the Communique does not ignore the rights of a citizen. It also specifically refers to “respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms” and considers it of “paramount importance”
Internet Governance in the Communique
The fourth and most interesting issue covered in paragraph 12 of the Communique is that of Internet governance. It considers the Internet a “global resource”. This is language that has been previously used in the Ufa Declaration at the 7th BRICS Summit. It is also not far from the language of the WSIS+10 Review Outcome Document which uses language from the Tunis Agenda and provides for the management of the “Internet as a global facility”. Further borrowing from the WSIS documents, the Communique goes on to refer to participation of all states on “equal footing”. It emphasizes the need for Internet governance to be based “on multilateralism, democracy, transparency with multi-stakeholders in their respective roles and responsibilities” (emphasis supplied). The paragraph concludes with the need for further internationalization of Internet governance and “to enhance in this regard the role of International Telecommunication Union”.
Some see this text in the Communique as a step forward – as a measure that creates a middle ground between countries with polar opposite positions on internet governance. While others worry this is an exclusionary road to multilateralism, one that can lead to back to an oscillating ambivalence of India’s position on internet governance. However, this text is not far from India’s position on multistakeholderism. While being vocal about India’s support for multistakeholderism in internet governance, the Minister for Communications and IT has also emphasised one condition. That is, government will have supreme right and control on matters of national security. On examining the internet governance related text of the Communique, the heavy focus on security concerns of the countries is evident.
In many ways, this can be seen as a pit-stop before Brazil and South Africa join the discussion at the BRICS Summit later this year. In a post earlier this year, I argued the possibility of a BRICS Bridge for Dialogue on Internet governance. India will host the 8th BRICS Summit, in Goa from 15th to 16th October, 2016. Now could be an opportune moment to take the reins of internet governance debates and steer towards a constructive path.