It has to be more than a coincidence that, two months after Anna Hazare became a cult figure following his arrest and fast at the Ramlila Maidan in the capital, the government should move a proposal to bring in the relatively informal governance structure of the internet to a more formal arrangement under a 50-member inter-governmental bureaucratic structure under the aegis of the United Nations—the proposal is expected to come up for discussion later today during the meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva. It’s hard to see what problem India has with the current governance structure under a voluntary multi-stakeholder group called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) since ICANN has a Government Advisory Council which invites participation from governments across the world—if its location in the US looks as if it gives the US undue influence, keep in mind that country is home to 49% of internet servers. In any case, rather than getting governments to interfere in the internet they did not create, why not look at ways to get ICANN to be more representative?
If you ignore, for the moment, that India’s decision on something so important and transparent as the internet has not been preceded by any consultation with stakeholders, a look at who else supports India’s move should frighten the wits out of you. Countries like Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Rwanda are the others who are in favour of the proposed Committee on Internet Related Policies—few of these are countries known for their support to freedom of speech. What makes India’s position more worrying is that the move is one of many more made in the path to curb free speech—the IT Rules of April 11, 2011, made it easier for the government to police the internet, leading to communication minister Kapil Sibal asking Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft to pull out content the government objected to; on April 13 this year, Prof Ambikesh Mohapatra was arrested for daring to forward a cartoon about West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and on May 14, Parliament found no problem with the government banning NCERT school books for carrying cartoons that even the subjects of the cartoons—Jawaharlal Nehru and BR Ambedkar—didn’t find objectionable during their lifetime.