Cobweb of Controlling the Web
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It's been ubiquitous just like the word 'Xerox' was till digital document processing took over and Google wears that crown now. In India, since the days of the 'Raj', jeep was the de facto term for every MUV variant prevalent and it gave way to other brand names only with the advent of the information age. While the information revolution is touted as the greatest liberator against ignorance, poverty and tyranny, how many of us know the fact that Uncle Sam's presence is equally ubiquitous in every way we act on the internet. And courtesy Edward Snowden, these issues are finally being unearthed from beneath the information superhighway. And, for the first time, in the last few months, other world powers have begun to make serious sustained attempts to make not just information, but its infrastructure as well, truly owned and controlled by the people.

While attempts at a global deal aimed at giving control of ICANN to the UN was flatly refused by US late last year, India has begun to add its own weight behind serious attempts to make the internet walk on its own without holding Uncle Sam's finger. However, first a sneak peek into history.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the non-profit that controls and manages the Domain Name Server (DNS) system which oversees the .com, .net, and .name domain names is itself controlled by the US Department of Commerce. ICANN, founded by the Clinton administration in 1998, has never given the contract to manage any of the above mentioned domains to any non US corporate entity.

While Virginia based VeriSign (yes the same company which once owned the famous black tick mark VeriSign authentication business for millions of transactions across the globe) operates the .com and .net top level domains, it also owns 2 of internet's 13 root servers. The root servers are the skeleton behind the Domain Name System (DNS) that facilitates all internet communication. Another global domain, .org is managed by another non-profit, the Public Internet Registry, also based out of Virginia.

Essentially, the internet currently exists as overlapping layers of multiple private cum government controlled or operated intranets across the planet. But, the core technology, both hardware and software that controls a vast majority of all internet addresses, communication, transactions and security is controlled by US based firms or non-profits which are contractually bound to US government for providing information at any time. Since last year's World Conference on International Telecommunications where any proposed deal for UN control over internet by powers such as Russia and China was rejected by the US, India launched its own efforts.

An internal note prepared by the sub-committee on International Cooperation on Cyber Security which comes under the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), "It was important that management and control of the DNS should be supervised by a 'Board' consisting of technical experts nominated by governments and India should be represented on this Board.

We should seek a larger determinate role for the GAC [Government Advisory Committee] in ICANN, a U.S.-based non-profit that coordinates global Internet systems, which we should be effectively represented." While through some diplomatic tug-of-war India got many companies to install their root servers within our borders, the note highlights that since data and traffic originating or coming in India from all domain names originating from India is not stored in India, until and unless it is done so, India essentially has very little say in the way internet is controlled and governed. And India's headache might only rise if along with the US, Russia and China also get their say in how information is shared and money is transferred across the planet.

Last year, US rejected Russia's proactive stance on Un control of internet backed by China and others as well since that would have essentially meant individual governments' control over all data and internet traffic within and across their borders. US highlighted its 'principle' of an internet controlled by the people and free information for all but now, since the Snowden snowballing of internet and telecommunication spying and all pervading surveillance of all kinds of information and transactions by US, India seems certain to push for a multilateral approach to internet control and governance. The note clearly stated India's apprehensions of a new internet governance regime in which Russia and China will form a troika with the US and then enforce upon other nations and India aims to ensure that its concerns are also 'accommodated' in any new internet governance structure.

However, while we are still wrangling over WTO and climate deal negotiations courtesy a cobweb of complicated language and terminology but little gain on the ground, only time will tell whether our sincere intent to free (or control) the web within our borders actually sees the light of the day.

The above article has been contributed by Anchal Gupta. He is currently working as a freelancer covering the beats of Science/Technology mostly related to energy R&D, sustainable development, space research/exploration and environment/climate change issues. He also assists a renowned Documentary Filmmaker and independent TV anchor in India on his various projects. To read more works of him you can head to his blog .