Yes to multi-stakeholderism

By Chinmayi Arun and Sarvjeet Singh

The post originally appeared in The Hindu on 20th July 2015.

With the government’s decision to call for public comment and response, the recent consultations on net neutrality are a step in the right direction.

New Ideas: “A change in India’s stand signals potential openness to consultative policy-making.” In picture, activists staging a protest in favour of net neutrality in New Delhi.

New Ideas: “A change in India’s stand signals potential openness to consultative policy-making.” In picture, activists staging a protest in favour of net neutrality in New Delhi.

India declared its support for multi-stakeholder governance of the Internet at the ICANN 53 meeting in Buenos Aires and at the first Preparatory Meeting for the U.N. General Assembly’s overall review of the implementation of the World Summit on Information Society outcomes earlier this month. This, in combination with the government’s efforts at consultative policy-making in the context of net neutrality, may signal the beginning of a more discursive approach to communication policy.

India’s statements at both meetings have drawn attention thanks to the country’s place in the decade-old furious debate still raging over global Internet governance. Countries such as the U.S. and Germany have advocated a ‘multi-stakeholder’ model that consults governments, industry, civil society and technical community while making decisions that affect the Internet. This is consistent with these countries’ domestic approach to communication policy, which includes independent regulators that conduct wide consultations and frame policy after accounting for the concerns of various stakeholders. India has opposed this point of view in the past, favouring the ‘multilateral model’ in which national governments make decisions through an equal vote, arguing that this is the most equitable model. This has been consistent with India’s domestic command-control communication policy, which has tended to confine citizen participation in governance to the casting of the vote.

The change in India’s stand globally signals potential openness to consultative policy-making. Since ‘multi-stakeholder’ governance is an ambiguous term , the government’s approach to domestic communication policy may be a good indicator of its intentions for the Internet. In this context, it is worth taking a close look at how the net neutrality policy is being made. A clear effort has been made at consultation and responsiveness. It is a promising start and may be the beginning of consultative decision-making that gives citizens more avenues to discuss the best way for them to access information.

Consultative approach

Before publishing the net neutrality report this month, the Department of Telecommunications conducted a series of consultations. Although these consultations were closed and only for invited parties, the committee reached out to a wide range of experts and stakeholders. Reading the report makes it apparent that many perspectives were invited and incorporated but that we need to work towards documenting public input better. It is necessary to find a way to reflect different concerns within a post-consultation report.

Consultative governance of Internet policy will mean significant changes both in the process followed and in our deep-seated attitudes towards governance. If the government has to develop the uncomfortable habit of being more immediately responsive and accountable for decisions, we the stakeholders also need to take responsibility for our own communication policy.

For consultations to work, we will need to provide well-researched inputs and a continued willingness to engage and see other points of view, which is a habit that will also take time to develop.

The net neutrality consultation was a promising debut in which the government took the time to listen and respond, and a range of citizens made the effort to contribute and engage.

This is not the first time that India has flirted with the idea of multi-stakeholder governance. At the IGF 2012, the then Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Kapil Sibal, spoke of the India’s support for the multi stakeholder model. Following this, the government set up an advisory group for the India Internet Governance forum, and frequently invites inputs including in the net neutrality consultation.

Governments and other stakeholders of the world disagree about what ‘multi-stakeholder’ governance means. This governance model has its roots in the phrase ‘enhanced co-operation’, a compromise text inserted in the Tunis Agenda after prolonged negotiation. The meaning of this term, and the role played by NGOs in making decisions about the Internet remains elusive after years of international debate. The failure of the Working Group on Enhanced Co-operation set up to publish a report on what the model means illustrates the sensitive international politics within which the issue is submerged. An actual shift in India’s position may change the balance of the politics and would be worth watching out for.

India’s willingness and efforts to support a consultative model globally is likely to depend on its experience with such a model locally. The net neutrality consultations and leveraging of the multi-stakeholder advisory group are, therefore, tangible domestic experiments.

Multi-stakeholder models can vary in form and can exclude key stakeholders. For example, the Cyber Regulatory Advisory Committee consists of governmental and industry representatives with just one member from the technical community. Its characterisation as ‘multi-stakeholder’ has value since the government has the option of nominating others to the committee. But until the actual composition is more representative of different viewpoints, it will remain an industry-government committee. Similarly, the government’s cyber-security initiatives have tended to be industry-government conversations. This is troubling since all these initiatives ought to include people who work to embed human rights within these systems.

Commendable steps

The recent net neutrality consultations are a step in the right direction. The department’s decision to call for public comment and response to the report is commendable, especially since the department is under no legal obligation to do this. If India is serious about consultative decision-making, it will be worthwhile to build the more ad hoc processes followed for the net neutrality report into a constantly-improving system. The TRAI has experience with inputs from public consultations, and we have a lot to learn from other democracies that do this on a regular basis.

India’s fears about multi-stakeholder governance have always had their roots in its concerns about decision-making being dominated by corporations, especially U.S.-based corporations. This is why our government has consistently supported the traditional Westphalian governance model based on reasoning that a multilateral conversation between governments is likely to be more equitable than one in which international companies that are larger than most countries can dominate. It is good to see that the Indian government is interrogating this standpoint. This is in keeping with this government’s overhaul of systems to modern decision-making and accountability systems. India will still need to work out details and build on existing efforts like the net neutrality consultation and the multi stakeholder advisory group. We will need to carefully craft our policies to ensure that the process goes beyond giving industry a voice, and encourages independent inputs that effectively safeguard citizens’ rights.

(Chinmayi is the Research Director and Sarvjeet is the Project Manager and Fellow at the Centre)


Government’s Response to Fundamental Questions Regarding the Internet in India

The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology today provided answers to a number of questions, which were raised by the parliamentarians in the Rajya Sabha. We have extracted a set of 6 questions below, that deal with a host of issues including number of blocks under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, the current status of the Central Monitoring System, Data Privacy law and Net Neutrality.

Question 1: (Emergency Blocking under IT Act) 

(a) Whether Government has issued any emergency blocking orders under section 69 (A) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 pursuant to Rule 9 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009; and

(b) If so, the total number of emergency blocking orders issued from 1st January, 2014 till date and the details and specifications thereof?


(a) and (b) Government has issued directions for blocking of URLs on emergency basis depending on the nature of contents and consequences of spreading such contents as reported by Law Enforcement and Security Agencies, following the procedure as outlined in Rule 9 of the Information Technology (procedure and Safeguards for blocking for access of Information by Public) Rules.

Emergency blocking orders issued to block a total number of 216 URLs from 1st January, 2014 till date. The information hosted on these URLs were anti-national, provocative, communal hatred, which could lead to serious law and order problem in the Country. The URLs were blocked based on the requests of Law Enforcement Agencies including by orders passed by competent courts, in the interest of Sovereignty and Integrity of India, defense of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the Commission of any cognizable offence relating to above as per the provisions of Section 69A of Information Technology Act, 2000.

Question 2: (Blocking under IT Act)

(a) Whether Government has blocked/disabled access to certain websites and /or Uniform Resource Locators(URLs) during the current year and the last year and if so , the specifications thereof; 

(b) The total number of requests received by the designated officer and the total number of orders issued for blocking of websites and/or content under section 69(A) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 from 1st January, 2014 till date; and

(c) The total number of blocking orders revoked by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology, or any other Government agency from 1st January, 2014 till date?


(a) and (b) Government has invoked Section 69A of Information Technology Act, 2000 to block/disable access to certain websites/URLs. Section 69A of the Information Technology Act 2000 empowers Government to block any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any Computer Resource in the interest of Sovereignty and Integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the Commission of any cognizable offence relating to above.

A total of 255 URLs were blocked in 2014 and no URLs has been blocked in 2015 (till 31 March 2015) under Section 69A through the Committee constituted under the rules therein. Further, a total of 2091 URLs and 143 URLs were blocked in order to comply with the Directions of the Competent Courts of India in 2014 and 2015 (till 31 March 2015) respectively.

The Committee constituted as per the rules of Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 had recommended not to block 19 URLs in the meetings held between 1st January 2014 to till date.

Besides, Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) gets requests for blocking of objectionable content from individuals and organisations, which merely forwards those requests to the concerned websites for appropriate action.

(c) Two orders were issued to revoke the 251 blocked URLs from 1st January 2014 till date.

Question 3: (Central Monitoring System)

(a) The status of implementation of the Central Monitoring System (CMS) set up by Government for lawful interception and monitoring of communications;

(b) The details and salient features of the system, including the nodal agency implementing CMS;

(c) The total expenditure approved and incurred by Government for setting up of CMS;

(d) Whether it is operational, if so, in which parts of the country; and

(e) If not, the time-frame within which setting up and operationalization of CMS across the country is expected to be completed?


(a) and (b) Sir, the responsibility for execution of Central Monitoring Systems (CMS) has been entrusted with Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT). Most of Research & Development work has been completed. The Centralized Data Centre has been installed. Interception Store & Forward Servers (ISF) at the premises of Telecom Service Providers have been installed. Civil & electrical related environment works are at final stage of completion for the Regional Monitoring Centres. Installation activities at Regional Monitoring Centres have been initiated. Testing work has been initiated at Centralized Data Centre.

The envisaged salient features of CMS are as follows:

(i) Direct Electronic Provisioning of target number by a Government agency without any manual intervention from Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) on a secured network, thus enhancing the secrecy level and quick provisioning of target.

(ii) Central and regional database which will help Central and State level Law Enforcement Agencies in Interception and Monitoring.

(iii) Analysis of Call Data Records (CDR) to help in establishing linkage between anti-social/anti-national elements.

(iv) Research and Development (R&D) in related fields for continuous up gradation of the CMS.

(c) The CMS project has been approved by Cabinet Committee on Security with Government funding of Rs. 400.00 Crores. The equipment worth Rs. 255 Crores has been purchased and installed against which an amount of Rs. 149 Crores has been paid.

(d) & (e) Presently project is in roll out phase and not operational. The commissioning of CMS Delhi has been planned in phased manner. The Delhi and Karnataka Licensed Service Areas have been planned for initial roll out. 

Question 4: (Multi-Stakeholder model of IG)

(a) The Government’s view on the future on Internet Governance, given its opposition to the widely held multi-stakeholder model propounded at NETmundial;

(b) The Government’s rationale behind not conforming to the Multi-Stakeholder model for Internet Governance put forward at the NETmundial; and

(c) How Government supposes that the Multi-Stakeholder model impedes the principles of being multilateral, transparent, democratic, and representative, with the participation of Governments, private sector, civil society and international organizations?


(a), (b) and (c) Government will take a view on the future of Internet Governance taking into account all issues which affect Internet’s growth and India’s interest in the matter.

Question 5: (Data Privacy and IPR Laws)

(a) The steps taken by Government to engage the India-US Working Group on Information and Communication Technologies (WG-ICT) on Digital India initiative thus far;

(b) Whether Government has the requisite measures for data privacy and intellectual property rights of local and foreign manufacturers in place to ensure an attractive IoT Market in India; and

(c) If so, the details thereof?


(a) The meeting of the Working Group on Information & Communication Technologies (ICT) was held during 14th -15th January 2015 in Washington DC, USA. Amongst other issues, the two sides discussed cooperation framework under the Digital India Programme. Further a Joint Declaration of Intent for cooperation in the field of Information & Communications Technology and Electronics has been signed between the two countries on 20th January, 2015. One of the objectives under the aforesaid Joint Declaration of Intent is to explore the opportunities for collaboration in the course of implementation of India’s ambitious Digital India programme.

(b) and (c) The Information Technology Act, 2000 has adequate provisions for data protection and data privacy in digital form. Sections 43, 43A and 72A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 provides a legal framework for privacy and security of data in digital form. Further, Indian laws relating to Intellectual Property Right have been suitably amended and are TRIPS compliant

Question 6: (Net Neutrality and OTT Services)

(a) Whether there have been reports of private operators attempting to charge consumers premium rates for the use of services provided by Over-The-Top players;

(b) If so, the details thereof;

(c) The steps being taken by the Ministry to protect consumers from similar attempts in future; and

(d) the steps being taken by the Ministry to safeguard investor sentiment in the telecom sector?


(a) & (b) Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has reported that M/s. Bharti Airtel Limited reported that effective from 23.12.2014, all internet/data packs or plans (through which consumers can avail discounted rate) will exclude Voice Over Internet Protocol (both incoming and outgoing) and standard data rates will be applicable for VoIP. Subsequently, M/s. Bharti Airtel limited reported withdrawal of the same with effect from 26.12.2014.

(c) Does not arise in view of (a) & (b).

(d) Telecom licenses are governed by license agreements which are entered by Department of Telecom (licensor) with telecom service providers (licensees). At present 100% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is permitted in the telecom services sector, with 49% through automatic route and beyond 49% through Government route.

Both the domestic as well as Foreign Investors have to follow the laws of the land and are treated at par. As far as FDI is concerned, the investment is protected through Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements signed by India with 72 countries.


(Sarvjeet is a Project Manager and Research Fellow at the Centre for Communication Governance at National Law University, Delhi)