(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
October 28, 2012
CONTROL OF INTERNET IN DEBATE
Mechanism Needed to Give All Countries a Say
are two forthcoming international
events that have created a huge debate on who will control the
internet in the
future. These events are the 8th Internet Governance Forum
(IGF), to be held in
The internet started as a means of sharing information amongst scientists working in different institutions. From that, it is now becoming --- if it has not already become --- the communications backbone of the world. It is a major economic driver, provides banking and other financial services to the world’s business, provides a global market place and is replacing the conventional print and visual media. Internet is now ubiquitous in today’s world. Cutting off an enterprise or a country from the internet would have severe consequences.
of course immediately brings out the
dangers that are emerging in such an interconnected world. The
internet can be
used to bring down the telecommunications network of different
banks and even its power grid. In
The global media runs on advertisements today; even for newspapers, the ad revenue is the bulk of their earnings. What is happening is that in the online world, the ad revenues are even more skewed – Google has about 50 per cent of the total online ad revenue. In the future, Google, Facebook, and a few more global internet companies can hog the major part of the global ad revenues. What happens then to the developing countries media? How do local content and local language-based media then survive?
Therefore, internet governance is not just about how it runs today. It is how it should be run so that any country does not use it to attack others, or damage its economy, or use it to itself become the pre-eminent economic force on the internet. And let us not forget that url’s and domains are virtual real estates that are being bought and sold --- they are of economic value. If internet is a vital global resource, its governance is legitimately the concern of the global community.
This brings up two questions --- who controls the internet now and is there any need to fix the net as it is functioning, the old engineering argument that “don’t fix what ain’t broke.”
then controls the internet today? This
is not as straight forward a question as it seems. One part of
governance is domain name and IP allocations. Domain names are
what we type
into url’s for locating various sites. They in essence are
cyber real estates.
Earlier, we had the .com, .net and .org addresses; later on,
addresses such as .in or .uk came. All these addresses are
numbers as IP addresses which the computers can understand and
this is done by
root servers that “dissolve” the addresses we type into the
address bars on our
browser to the actual numeric addresses. The domain allocation
is done by a non-profit
organisation registered in the
for the world, ICANN controls the
domain name allocation and therefore internet governance, they
hold it under a
contract from the US Department of Commerce, which is
periodically tendered to
only US entities. The current contract is till 2015.
The other part of the internet is the technical standards, the various ways that bits and pieces of technology fit together to make the internet run seamlessly. This is done by various technical bodies creating technical standards that everybody then follows, such that to the user everything is one seamless world-wide web The Internet Society is the key technical body for this purpose. The reality of the world is of course that this is again highly skewed --- with major corporations and experts, mostly from these corporations, setting the standards and protocols that make the internet work. There is very little argument of putting this under multilateral control.
While the Internet Governance Forum was created earlier under the UN aegis as a multi-stakeholder platform, it does not have any binding powers and works through consensus in changing the way things are run. It is the fear of ITU and the possibility of internet coming under some kind of multilateral governmental control that has also made IGF more important --- it can be mobilised to argue that internet governance does not require multilateral agencies but only multi-stakeholders.
The International Telecom Union (ITU), as a body that runs the telecommunications networks of the world, has an obvious interest in the internet issues; after all the internet runs on the basic telecommunications infrastructure. The telecom companies have tried in various ways to generate more income out of internet services, but have generally not succeeded as content and the telecommunications layers have been separate. There are three issues that are of concern --- internet charges levied by telecom companies, differentiating between various kinds of content and lastly the ability by states to censor the net. The battle in Dubai over IT Regulations or ITR’s is about some of these issues.
FOR NATION STATES
Apart from these issues that are of concern to the users are issues that are of importance to nation states. These pertain to cyber security and use of internet to attack other countries --- use of cyber weapons.
Various proposals have been circulating for some time in the ITU. The most debated have been the one circulated by the European Telecom Network Operators (ETNO), who have been arguing that networks sending packets should pay the networks which receive these packets --- a variant of the calling party pays that is used in voice networks. With European government not backing these proposals, at the moment these proposals are dead unless picked up by any country.
However, there is one proposal that the ETNO has made and that has been picked up by India in its draft proposal. This pertains to differentiating different forms of content --- that packets from, say You Tube, would be given preferential treatment by telecom companies over others. This runs against the concept of net neutrality by which powerful players should not be able to get preferential treatment on the net but will be treated like any other player. Undoubtedly this will help the telecom companies and players such as Google and Facebook but not the rest.
Apart from this, the Arab countries have made proposals which in effect ask that countries should not attack each other’s facilities by using the internet. This is something that Russia and China have also raised. This is of vital importance as cyber weapons have been used against Iran and constitute a major expansion in the arena of war. While the US may have felt that it is today ahead of others and therefore banning of cyber weapons will take away their military advantage, what they forget is that such an edge cannot continue indefinitely. Global vital resources are vulnerable in a way that very few people understand. Any attempt to extend weapons and war to internet has enormous dangers for every country including the US. The Flame virus that took out the 10,000 centrifuges is estimated to have cost about 100 million dollars. This is chicken-feed for a nation state. If we consider internet to be vital infrastructure today, a declaration to this effect in ITU would have enormous significance.
The government of India has, in its draft proposal, supported this stand. Unfortunately, a number of organisations --- either through ignorance or under US lobbying --- are confusing a declaration of this nature with physical verification of such a declaration. The chemical weapons treaty had no verification procedure, and yet chemical weapons were not used in the Second World War even by Nazi Germany.
Cyber security is of importance but fears that such measures will lead to censoring content may or may not be well-founded. Measures such as cooperation between multilateral agencies are needed to control fraud and provide security; demanding that all originating addresses be delivered to the end-network may not. So we will have to see each measure as it is being formulated instead of taking blanket opposition to the ITU entering this area. The World Summit in Tunis, 2005, did make cyber security the ITU’s mandate and we have to see how this is carried out without damaging the democratic content of the net.
The key issue is not one of what measures are adopted in Dubai. It is ITU’s entry into internet that is being opposed. It brings the fear of multilateral governance of the internet from its current structure of multi-stake holder governance under the “benign” aegis of the US. Here we have to ask, as the ITU’s secretary-general Hamadoun Touré, asked, “When an invention becomes used by billions across the world, it no longer remains the sole property of one nation, however powerful that nation might be. There should be a mechanism where many countries have an opportunity to have a say. I think that’s democratic. Do you think that’s democratic?”