Russia, India and China: Perspectives on Internet Governance

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”.  

India’s approach

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.

 

BRICS and Internet Governance: India’s Chance to Lead the Way

By Gangesh Varma

The last quarter of 2015 alone witnessed three key events that displayed the diversity of views on internet governance. Namely, the 10th Internet Governance Forum (IGF), the United Nations WSIS+10 High Level Meeting, and the 2nd World Internet Conference (WIC) in Wuzhen, China. Each of these events captured various models of internet governance both as part of their discussions and in their format as well.  In this post I highlight some of these rifts in the internet governance space and suggest that 2016 BRICS Summit, might be a great venue to build bridges for better dialogue. India is set to chair the BRICS Summit from February 2016 and has an opportunity to lead the way.

The number of venues where internet governance discussions take place continues to grow. This is not surprising considering that internet governance is a very broad term and has a wide ambit that is rather pervasive. It is indeed a reflection of diverse perceptions and priorities that countries and stakeholders have with regard to internet governance. Having multiple fora for discussing these issues is not a bad necessarily a bad thing. In addition to providing more alternatives I believe it accommodates diverse perspectives and provides avenues for greater representation.

Interaction between these fora produces interesting results. For example, the 10th IGF also facilitated a round of consultations on the WSIS+10 Review, and the inputs received was transmitted to the negotiations before the High Level Meeting. This synergy is natural because the IGF was essentially born out the second phase WSIS process in 2005, and the consultations for the WSIS+10 Review also followed a multistakeholder model. An example showcasing the opposite of such synergy can be found in furore surrounding the interactions at the 2nd WIC. Fadi Chehade, CEO of ICANN at the 2nd WIC caused quite a stir with his statements, and decision to join and co-chair the High-Level Advisory Committee. I will not be analysing the merits and demerits of such decision, or commenting on the larger Chinese strategy at play. I would  like to highlight the reason for such friction is simply because of the existence of multiple models of governance.

The various models of governance are a result of the divergent views of internet governance. The Tunis Agenda is a great example that was a result of a compromise between the multistakeholder and multilateral elements. Ten years later the negotiations of WSIS+10 Outcome document revived the same debate. Eventually the outcome document was arrived at by including both ‘multistakeholder’ and ‘multilateral’ in its text. Kleinwächter takes a ‘layered approach’ in analysing this debate, and shows how each event is an example of a different model of governance. The IGF is a multistakeholder conference, while the WSIS+10 was multilateral and the 2nd WIC was unilateral event under Chinese leadership. It is evident that in reality no model exists in isolation, and cannot afford to do so due to the complexity and scale of the internet ecosystem. However, competing notions of fundamental concepts prevent multiple models from co-existing without friction. Concepts of sovereignty and jurisdiction when applied to the internet and cyberspace have widely differing interpretations. Even multistakeholderism is interpreted and operationalised differently in various institutions and processes.

The concept of ‘sovereignty’ can be taken as an example. At the 2nd World Internet Conference, the Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated the application of sovereignty to online spaces. On an internet governance spectrum, President Xi Jinping’s iteration of ‘cyber-sovereignty’ would be on one end while John Perry Barlow’s famous Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace from 20 years ago would be on the other end. Barlow’s version of cyberspace is long gone, and sovereignty on the internet has many manifestations such as ‘data sovereignty’ that has gained importance in the Post-Snowden Era. The evolving uses of the internet only adds to the complexity created by these competing notions of sovereignty and its application to the online spaces resulting in differing interpretations of ‘cyber-sovereignty’.

In this context, I believe building a ‘BRICS Bridge for Dialogue’ would be helpful. BRICS might seem like the least favourable place to discuss internet governance given there are divergent views within the coalition itself. Russia and China support greater weightage to multilateral methods. While India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) can be considered supporters of multistakeholder models although they had earlier in 2011 supported a UN led Committee for Internet Related Policy (CIRP) which was predominantly a multilateral model. India’s position on multistakeholderism is evidenced not only in the statement of the Information and Communications Minister at ICANN 53 but also in the recently concluded WSIS+10 negotiations as well.

BRICS has already put in place working groups such as the Working Group on ICT Cooperation, and the BRICS Working Group on Security in the Use of ICTs. The Ufa Declaration pledges support for greater cooperation in these areas and places heavy reliance on the UN and multilateral mechanisms. However it also acknowledges the ideas of “equal footing” and “the need to involve relevant stakeholders in their respective roles and responsibilities”. This intra-BRICS cooperation provides a foundation of shared values to build a stronger dialogue on internet governance issues. Given the divergence of views on internet governance models among the BRICS countries, it is not easy to develop a crystallised BRICS position. However, initiating the dialogue among a smaller group countries with common interests can probably yield better results than stand-offs between hard-line positions on other international fora. India will be hosting the BRICS Summit in 2016, and will be Chair for a period of 11 months starting in February 2016. India has the opportunity to initiate and steer this dialogue that has significant strategic benefits not just for the BRICS countries but can contribute to the development of global internet governance regimes. 

ICTs at BRICS 2015 Summit

The VII BRICS Summit recently concluded with the release of the 2015 Ufa Declaration.The entire declaration can be found here and the relevant excerpts related to ICTs are provided below.

33. ICTs are emerging as an important medium to bridge the gap between developed and developing countries, as well as to foster professional and creative talents of people. We recognize the importance of ICTs as a tool for transition from information to a knowledge society and the fact that it is inseparably connected with human development. We support the inclusion of ICT-related issues in the post-2015 development agenda and greater access to ICTs to empower women as well as vulnerable groups to meet the objectives of the agenda.

We also recognize the potential of developing countries in the ICT ecosystem and acknowledge that they have an important role to play in addressing the ICT-related issues in the post-2015 development agenda.

We recognize the urgent need to further strengthen cooperation in the areas of ICTs, including Internet, which is in the interests of our countries. In that context, we decided to constitute a BRICS working group on ICT cooperation. We reiterate the inadmissibility of using ICTs and the Internet to violate human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to privacy, and reaffirm that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online. A system ensuring confidentiality and protection of users’ personal data should be considered.

We consider that the Internet is a global resource and that states should participate on an equal footing in its evolution and functioning, taking into account the need to involve relevant stakeholders in their respective roles and responsibilities. We are in favour of an open, non-fragmented and secure Internet. We uphold the roles and responsibilities of national governments in regard to regulation and security of the network.

We acknowledge the need to promote, among others, the principles of multilateralism, democracy, transparency and mutual trust, and stand for the development of universally agreed rules of conduct with regard to the network. It is necessary to ensure that UN plays a facilitating role in setting up international public policies pertaining to the Internet.

We support the evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem, which should be based on an open and democratic process, free from the influence of any unilateral considerations.

34. Information and communications technologies provide citizens with new tools for the effective functioning of economy, society and state. ICTs enhance opportunities for the establishment of global partnerships for sustainable development, the strengthening of international peace and security and for the promotion and protection of human rights. In addition, we express our concern over the use of ICTs for purposes of transnational organized crime, of developing offensive tools, and conducting acts of terrorism. We agree that the use and development of ICTs through international cooperation and universally accepted norms and principles of international law is of paramount importance in order to ensure a peaceful, secure and open digital and Internet space. We reiterate our condemnation of mass electronic surveillance and data collection of individuals all over the world, as well as violation of the sovereignty of States and of human rights, in particular, the right to privacy. We recognize that states are not at the same level of development and capacity with regard to ICTs. We commit ourselves to focus on expanding universal access to all forms of digital communication and to improve awareness of people in this regard. We also stress the need to promote cooperation among our countries to combat the use of ICTs for criminal and terrorist purposes. We recognize the need for a universal regulatory binding instrument on combating the criminal use of ICTs under the UN auspices. Furthermore, we are concerned with the potential misuse of ICTs for purposes, which threaten international peace and security. We emphasize the central importance of the principles of international law enshrined in the UN Charter, particularly the political independence, territorial integrity and sovereign equality of states, non-interference in internal affairs of other states and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

We reaffirm the general approach set forth in the e’Thekwini and Fortaleza Declarations on the importance of security in the use of ICTs and the key role of the UN in addressing these issues. We encourage the international community to focus its efforts on confidence-building measures, capacity-building, the non-use of force, and the prevention of conflicts in the use of ICTs. We will seek to develop practical cooperation with each other in order to address common security challenges in the use of ICTs. We will continue to consider the adoption of the rules, norms and principles of responsible behavior of States in this sphere.

In that context, the Working Group of Experts of the BRICS States on security in the use of ICTs will initiate cooperation in the following areas: sharing of information and best practices relating to security in the use of ICTs; effective coordination against cyber-crime; the establishment of nodal points in member-states; intra-BRICS cooperation using the existing Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRT); joint research and development projects; capacity building; and the development of international norms, principles and standards.”