Speaking with one voice, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal, Telecom Secretary R. Chandrashekhar and Deputy National Security Advisor Vijay Latha Reddy on Thursday advocated the need for the government to embrace a consensual, democratic, transparent and evolving structure through a multi-stakeholder dialogue for handling Internet issues, without impinging on individual freedom of expression in any way.

They were speaking at the inaugural session of the India Internet Governance Conference on ‘Internet for Social and Economic Development: Building the Future Together’, jointly organised here by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Ministry of Communications & IT, and the Internet Society (ISOC).

Addressing a large gathering, Mr. Sibal said, “I am personally against the word ‘governance’ in the context of the Internet. How do you govern the voice of the voiceless in cyberspace, reaching out to one another, empowering one another? It’s impossible. Communication through space is the most democratic, liberating framework for mankind.” He added: “The government of India’s position is clear. We are on the side of freedom of expression and the Internet is the most liberating mechanism devised in history.”

Mr. Chandrashekhar said the greater concern of the government was how to equip citizens to derive the full potential of the Internet in order to transform their lives by making them e-literate in a country where even literacy is a challenge. “We need collective wisdom and consensus to address the multiple challenges of the Internet.”

Ms. Vijay Latha Reddy, who is primarily responsible for cyber security issues in India and reports to National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, said the rapid growth of the Internet had presented new and growing challenges in Internet governance that remained inadequately addressed. “While cyber security and the management of critical infrastructure need enhanced international cooperation on Internet-related public policy issues, generating the quest for new and wide-ranging mechanisms of Internet governance, we need to balance national security interests with individual freedom of expression,” she said.

The Department of Information and Technology (DIT), which is the flag-bearer of Internet governance issues, dealing with wide-ranging issues among several stakeholders, participated. DIT Secretary J. Satyanarayana said 44.4 per cent or 1.02 billion of the total Internet users were in the Asian region alone. “In India, there are 121 million users, though the penetration rate is just 10 per cent. This indicates that growth will be dominant in the Asian region and in India in particular.”

Nitin Desai, former Special Advisor to the U.N. Secretary General for Internet Governance, said: “If something isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Don’t fiddle with something that works”.

ISOC, recognised as the most predominant, not-for-profit international organisation which specialises in policy, implementation and technical issues relating to the Internet, was represented by Rajnesh Singh, Regional Director, Asia Pacific. He said: “The Internet has had a profound impact on society at large, and we would like to see this grow. This is the 20th anniversary of the Internet, so it is timely that India should be discussing these issues, particularly since it is fast becoming the most important market for the Internet.”

Not an easy job

Naina Lal Kidwai, FICCI senior vice-president, said: “Internet governance has a multitude of hues, requiring the interests of all stakeholders to be balanced out.” This exercise would be neither easy nor uncontroversial.

The second day of the conference on Friday will have 11 sessions, with speakers from India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, China, Switzerland, the U.K. and the U.S., discussing issues on Internet governance, hate speech, management of critical Internet resources, digital literacy, relationship between the Internet and traditional media, innovation based on Internet and Net neutrality.

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