India changes its internet governance position — backs away from UN proposal

Following outrage from India’s civil society and media, it appears the country’s government has backed away from its proposal to create a UN body to govern the internet. The controversial plan, which was made without consulting civil society, angered local stakeholders, including academics, media, and industry associations. Civil society expressed fear that a 50-member UN body, many of whom would seek to control the internet for their own political ends, would restrict the very free and dynamic nature of the internet. The proposal envisaged “50 member States chosen on the basis of equitable geographic representation” that would meet annually in Geneva as the UN Committee for Internet-Related Policies (UN-CIRP).

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Indian parlimentarian and critic of the proposal, said: “CIRP seems like a solution in search of a problem”. At present, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), a non-profit with ties to the US State Department, serves as the platform for internet governance, using an organisational structure that allows input from the wider internet community and not just governments of the world.

Sachin Pilot, India’s Minister of State for Telecom

However at the 4-5 October Conference on Cyberspace in Budapest, the Minister of State for Telecom, Sachin Pilot, indicated that India was moving away from the “control of the internet by government or inter-governmental bodies”, and moving instead towards enhanced dialogue. Pilot has now confirmed the change to Index, saying that the Indian government has now decided to “nuance” its former position.

The sudden move can be explained by India’s decision to now develop its own stance, claiming that it was initially just supporting proposals made at the India, Brazil and South Africa seminar (IBSA) on Global Internet Governance in Brazil in September 2011. However, there are indicators that the country might have played an active role in pushing for the new body.

The government representatives present at the IBSA seminar drafted a set of recommendations focused on institutional improvement, which pushed for the UN to establish a body “in order to prevent fragmentation of the internet, avoid disjointed policymaking, increase participation and ensure stability and smooth functioning of the internet”. The proposal was to be tabled until the IBSA Summit on 18 October 2011, but according to a Daily Mail report, Indian bureaucrats publicly discussed the proposal at the 2011 Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Kenya, saying that the move “was criticised across the board by all countries and scared away both Brazil and South Africa.” The report also alleges that the Indian government only consulted one NGO — IT for Change — in drafting the proposal presented in Brazil, despite repeated offers from other participants to pay for members of the country’s third sector to participate in the seminar. India’s proposed UN-CIRP was slammed for moving away from multi-stakeholderism and instead opting for government-led regulation.

Whatever the truth behind the Indian government’s motives in proposing UN-CIRP, its new and more “nuanced” position is a welcome move. It remains to be seen if India will maintain its new stance at the upcoming IGF, which will be held from 6-9 November in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Mahima Kaul is a journalist based in New Delhi. She focuses on questions of digital freedom and inclusion

The president of the Tunisian Pirate Party speaks

The Tunisian Pirate Party is an offshoot of the international anti-censorship movement and the political wing of the Takriz movement, a “street resistance nework”.

In the aftermath of Ben Ali’s fall, one of its high-profile members, Slim Amamou, was briefly in the cabinet and the anti-censorship faction was legalised in March. 

Sled Din Kchouk, the party’s president, talks to Index about politics, internet regulation, transparency and more

Index: Why did it take so long for the Tunisian Pirate Party to be legalised?

Sled Din Kchouk (SDK): The party was launched in October 2010 with the emergence of Takriz movement. At that time the party operated underground. On 9 May 2011 we filed a request for the Interior Ministry to legalise our party (…) After three months, we found out that following an order from Hbib Essid, the Interior Minister at that time, that the party had been banned (Essid has recently been nominated as an adviser to the Prime Minister).

Two people slowed down the process. The first person was General Rachid Ammar (Chief of Staff of the Tunisian Armed Forces), who seemed to have personal issues with Takriz because the movement heavily criticised him [last year a military tribunal ordered the filtering of the Takriz Facebook page]. The second person was Essid who the movement criticised for his links with the former regime. We, the Tunisian Pirate Party, politically represent the movement of Takriz. That is why they don’t like us.

Index: You admit to being part of Takriz, a movement that describes itself as a “street resistance movement”, and which on several occasions has called for violence against police?

SDK: Sure we do. We are the political tongue of Takriz. When someone deprives you from your most basic rights, you only have one choice left: violence. But, Takriz today is employing political speech, with no insults and no bad words. And the best example for that is me; I’m now standing in front of you and talking to you with neither insults, nor violence. I’m proud to be part of Takriz, a movement that will never give up its principles.

Index: How will the Tunisian Pirate Party attract sympathisers and voters when most Tunisians do not consider internet freedom a priority?

SDK: We have an entire economic programme for Tunisia that would create jobs. In Tunisia, we cannot use eBay. Such services have to be available. All companies have to be available online to facilitate commercial transactions. The Tunisian Dinar cannot be converted to other currencies in other countries. Our objective is to open the Tunisian economy via the internet. We also want to revolutionise education through the World Wide Web. In Tunisia only those who study in private universities benefit from distance learning. Why not those who go to public universities too?

Index: Do you plan to run for office in upcoming elections, whether local, legislative or presidential? The Swedish Pirate Party has two seats in EU parliament. Do you think that one day Tunisian Pirate Party will gain seats in parliament?

SDK: With a judiciary, media, and a Ministry of Interior still loyal to Ben Ali [the autocratic former President who ruled the country for 23 years], I do not feel reassured about elections. At the same time, it is our right as Tunisian youths to take part in elections, to be represented, and to shout: we do exist. As for next year’s elections, I cannot answer this question now. It is still too early to decide.

The countries where Pirate Parties are doing well have real democracy. And politicians want the youth to take part in the game. But in Tunisia young people are still not that interested in politics. We, as the Tunisian Pirate Party, want to tell the youth of Tunisia [they] should be leaders. Why do we always have to create cults of personality, and follow them as leaders? The youth should take the initiative and create an alternative. [Our current politicians] are not better skilled than the youth of Tunisia.

Index: Does the Pirate Party support internet legislation in Tunisia? There is an ongoing heated debate about whether the internet, and freedom of speech, should be restricted by what President Moncef Marzouki has called “red lines”. What do you think?

SDK: Before 14 January 2011, Tunisian netizens shared one goal: getting rid of the dinosaur Ben Ali. After 14 January, the internet has been used by many political parties as a propaganda tool. We can certainly use internet during electoral campaigns, but not to defame each other or spread rumours.

Such misconducts are not going to last forever because the Tunisian citizen is brilliant. He is aware that the right wing is using the net to attack the left wing and vice versa. So there is no need for the authorities to regulate the internet. Even if they draft internet legislation, via the use of proxies we can have access to everything.

Index: What is your position on the hacking of the e-mail of Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali by a group claiming affiliation with the international hacking collective Anonymous?

SDK: Hamdi Jebali made a choice to serve the Tunisian people. By making such choice, all information about Hamadi Jebali as a Prime Minister, and not as a person, should be accessible to the people. Any information that involves the livelihood, the rights and liberties of citizens, and the policies that would affect them in the future should be accessible. Tunisians love truth, so it is better for politicians not to lie to them. If the government has plans to take loans from some countries, why are they hiding such plans? Why not put the policies of open government into practice? Why fear transparency?

Index: But open government does not mean hacking into people’s emails? The use of internet has its principles, and you were saying that the Tunisian Pirate Party has its own principles too. Would you accept it if someone hacks into your own e-mail?

SDK: It is against our principles not to respect individual’s right to privacy. The e-mail address that was hacked was not the PM’s personal e-mail address, but it was a professional one under the name of the ruling party, Ennhadha.