CYBER DEBATE IN INDIA

cyber-security2India is uniquely dependent on the cyber sphere. It is the chosen medium for the implementation of the country’s socio-economic schemes. But this also exposes the country to a higher probability of cyber­ attack, according to National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon. “Commitments to plurality and democracy in the cyber sphere have to be tempered by security considerations,” Menon said. Discovering the golden mean is both an Indian and a global imperative. It was against this background that delegates met in New Delhi on Oct. 14 and 15 for CYFY 2013, the inaugural India Conference on Cyber Security and Cyber Governance.

Given the democratic nature of India and its sheer size, the solutions it chooses will have a seminal influence on the future of cyberspace. The underlying theme for most of the discussions was how to preserve the democratic nature of cyberspace while protecting it. An earl y consensus emerged that privacy and individual freedom would have to be balanced against the question of security of society as a whole. Thus the state will have to be empowered, to some extent at least, to deal with the kind of social instabilities that can be generated in the real world through acts in the virtual domain. The debate threw up some interesting nuances. One conference participant said surveillance was like salt — good in moderation, unpalatable in excess. But it is clear there are many unresolved issues, including the very definition of what privacy is and what it is that we are trying to protect. The debate on the concept and limits of sovereignty in cyberspace was also combative.

The central question was how to regulate a domain that is international in its operation through the exercise of national sovereignty. “Cyber governance is something of an oxymoron,” said Kapil Sibal, Indian Minister for Communications and Information Technology, “and are imagined notion of sovereignty is essential to develop an effective cyber security paradigm.”

The dilemma here is the inherent conflict between national security and t he necessity of international cooperation, which is to some extent based on countries ceding sovereignty and working with each other. Another overarching theme, and one on which there was much less disagreement, was t he role of the private sector. There seemed to be general consensus that the government’s role was morphing from that of a regulator to a facilitator. Delegates emphasized t he state’s role in setting security standards to ensure the resilience of the net.

cyber-security3Contrary to romantic notions of the Internet and social media destroying the existing state system, the reverse is true the state is empowered more dramatically than ever before. However the question of providing or generating sufficient cooperation between the government, private sector and civil society proved especially thorny given the issue of trust and surveillance especially with regards to privacy. Jaak Aaviksoo, the Estonian Minister of Education flagged the issue of the Internet “not being a virtual domain.”There are physical aspects to it, he pointed out, and that means there are specific requirements in terms of how we build resilience into the system. He also raised the question of moral legitimacy, required to create a culture of trust building between the government and the people because the whole question of state versus citizen has been a central theme in the evolution of the debate on cyber governance. India’s own policy in terms of developing a layered approach was brought into focus specifically the question of training large numbers of people to ensure that India’s planned cyber security policy can be implemented.

cyber-security1Deputy National Security Adviser Nehchal Sandhu admitted that “while India has a national cyber security policy it is still to develop a national cyber-security strategy.” The sheer size of India’s cyber population makes its national deliberations critical to the global dialogue. The key discussions here revolved around whether to promote sovereignty on the net or even to seek a wholly sovereign Internet. Are we going to side with those who say information security is absolute, or those who say each government has the absolute freedom to do what it wants in its own territory. That India is finding its own middle way was best reflected by the fact that, despite furious debate, there was little to no mention of PRISM or Snowden.

Being pragmatic it would seem India and Indians, unlike the EU or Brazi l, have chosen to forgo rhetoric and instead debate the core issues around privacy, anonymity, intellectual property and national territoriality. One final question that came up was whether technological developments would allow states to dominate. This is a debate that has played out historically in every new medium that has emerged.

As the international negotiations proceed in the coming years, the whole question of whether we are going to have an internet that is transcendental and collectively used across the world or is it going to be dominated by each country in its own little domain of influence. The India conference was the start of a process one that raised many questions and found some interesting and out-of-the-box answers. The complexity of t he debate dictates that this will not be an easy path to navigate. The India Conference on Cyber Governance and Cyber Security will not and cannot be a one-off interaction among multi-stakeholders. It is the beginning of a strong forum that can debate India’s policies, help mould its strategy and simultaneously address global challenges.

(Samir Saran is a Vice President and Abhijit Iyer-Mitra Programme Manager at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)  The article can also be read at Cyber debate in India: Finding a middle way Courtesy: ORF, Security Times, Berlin   

Author Profile

India Writes Network
India Writes Network
India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) is an emerging think tank and a media-publishing company focused on international affairs & the India Story. A venture of TGII Media Private Limited, a leading media, publishing and consultancy company, IWN has carved a niche for balanced and exhaustive reporting and analysis of international affairs. Eminent personalities, politicians, diplomats, authors, strategy gurus and news-makers have contributed to India Writes Network, as also “India and the World,” a magazine focused on global affairs. The Global Insights India (TGII) is the research arm of India Writes Network. To subscribe to India and the World, write to editor@indiawrites.org