Multistakeholder participation, processes and agenda await clarity

Global outrage against recent revelations of mass surveillance by the U.S. government, which sparked discussions for a review of global surveillance guidelines, has led the Brazilian government to reach out to the Indian government for support for its proposal to host a one-off global summit, scheduled for early May 2014.

The move follows President Dilma Rouseff’s angry speech on U.S. surveillance at the U.N. General Assembly in September.

When contacted by The Hindu, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin confirmed the news. The surveillance issue had also come up during External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid’s visit to Brazil in October. Mr. Khurshid and his Brazilian counterpart had “expressed their concern” on the issue. These meetings were held in the week following ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé’s first visit to Brazil and meeting with Ms. Rouseff, that resulted in the proposal for the Brazilian “summit,” which caught all countries and Internet communities unawares.

Surprise summit

Even ICANN’s closest constituencies — ISOC and IETF — have no clarity on the timing, purpose, process and outcome of such a one-off summit. Apart from India, Brazil is also reportedly in touch with other countries such as South Korea, Australia and now more likely, Germany, after it recently came to light that the U.S. may have monitored Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone for over a decade .

ICANN held multiple meetings along with the heads of ISOC and IETF last week at the Internet Governance Forum in Bali, Indonesia to answer the questions of various stakeholders. Business and civil society remained sceptical about the meeting, given Brazil’s support for the ITU Treaty and inter-governmental model for Internet governance, with fears that this meet was being engineered to strengthen multilateral control of the Internet without a clear process for multi-stakeholder participation in decision-making.

Widespread scepticism

Scepticism at the Brazilian summit became acute as multiple tweets and webcasts from the IGF in Bali showed that the Brazilian delegation remained unclear about their stance on the multilateral versus multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance, often using the words interchangeably.

India’s concerns are graver. This is because, if surveillance, rather than evaluation of a multistakeholder model for transitioning Internet governance, remains the main issue of the Brazilian conference — in line with President Rouseff’s U.N. speech and based on the Brazilian delegation’s statements in Bali — this would bring India’s Central Monitoring System (CMS) into focus.

An investigative report by The Hindu, ‘India’s surveillance project may be as lethal as PRISM’, published on June 21, revealed that the CMS was second only to PRISM in terms of size, lethal capability and an extraordinary ability for intrusion into citizens’ privacy, without much detail or guidelines in the public domain. Even at the IGF last week, the CMS attracted criticism for its opaque surveillance procedures.

Indian stakeholders favour removing the U.S. government’s control over ICANN, even though that may not be directly linked to the predominant issue of surveillance, which has sparked the present anger sweeping global capitals. However, apart from a stronger role for the Government Advisory Committee (GAC), there is no clear roadmap for realigning ICANN. It is unclear whether the Brazil summit will deal with both surveillance and ICANN’s internationalisation, or predominantly review global surveillance procedures.

India’s dilemma

The External Affairs Ministry did not confirm if India has decided to support the Brazilian effort. However, if it does, it will be at the risk of defending criticism against CMS-related surveillance, while agreeing to attack the Americans on PRISM. The Indian government has been either defensive of, or silent on, the PRISM program since it has benefitted from the program.

Global businesses and the civil society seem comfortable discussing surveillance openly, but if governments — nearly all of whom engage in widespread surveillance — will support such discussion remains a mystery. Since the meeting in Brazil is proposed for May 2014, right in the middle of India’s general election, the likelihood of any senior political or bureaucratic heads leading India’s delegation also looks dim.

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