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Stepping into the Future: Does India measure up to UN Group of Experts on ICT Report?

Date: 
23 November 2016
Authors: 

This guest piece was written by Elonnai Hickok and Vipul Kharbanda of the Centre for Internet and Society. It does not necessarily reflect the views or position of Privacy International.

In light of the complex challenges and threats posed to, and by, the field of information telecommunications in cyberspace, in 1998 the draft resolution in the First Committee of the UN General Assembly was introduced and adopted without a vote (A/RES/53/70) . Since then, the Secretary General to the General Assembly has invited annual reports on the issue. The most recent report, Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security, was published in June 2015.

The 2015 Report touches upon a number of issues, including international cooperation, norms and principles for responsible state behavior, confidence building measures cross border exchange of information, and capacity building measures.

Annual reports will continue to be accepted by the General Assembly, and the 2016/2017 Group of Governmental Experts will have it's first meeting in August 2016.  India was a member of the Group of Governmental Experts in 2013.

The  Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) published a paper analysing India’s alignment with  the recommendations of the report of the Group of Governmental Experts. This policy brief attempts to articulate the major policy actions that may be considered by India to further incorporate and implement the principles enunciated in the Report.

CIS believes that the report of the Group of Governmental Experts provides important minimum standards that countries could adhere to in light of challenges to international security posed by ICT developments. Given the global nature of these challenges and the need for nations to holistically address such challenges from a human rights and security perspective, CIS believes that the Group of Governmental Experts and similar international forums are useful and important forums for India to continue to actively engage with.

 

Below are our specific recommendations:

(a) Consistent with the purposes of the United Nations, including to maintain international peace and security, States should cooperate in developing and applying measures to increase stability and security in the use of ICTs and to prevent ICT practices that are acknowledged to be harmful or that may pose threats to international peace and security;

India has entered into treaties on ICT issues with countries such as Belarus, Canada, China, Egypt, and France. Additionally, India’s IT Act addresses a number of the cyber-crimes listed in the Budapest Convention. However, India is not yet a signatory to the Convention. This leaves scope for India to consider further forums and means of international cooperation to better realise this principle.

India has been invited to accede to the Budapest Convention in the past, but for various tactical and political reasons has not yet agreed to do so. Although whether to accede to an international convention or not is usually a well discussed and thought out policy decision of the diplomatic core of a country, the mutual assistance framework, however flawed it may be, would offer a better opportunity for India for international cooperation for increasing the stability and security of ICTs and prevent harmful ICT practices as envisaged in the Report of the Group of Governmental Experts.

(b) In case of ICT incidents, States should consider all relevant information, including the larger context of the event, the challenges of attribution [of cybercrime] in the ICT environment and the nature and extent of the consequences;

While the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DEITY) as well as the Computer Emergency Response Team, India (CERT-In) have a number of policies which talk about maintaining security and means of addressing threats in the ICT environment, most ICT incidents, crimes or illegal activities using ICT, unless they involve large or government institutions, are handled by the regular police establishment of the country. The lack of capacity, both in terms of infrastructure and skill, of the regular police to adequately address most cyber-crimes is an area that needs to be strengthened. The need for cyber security capacity building  in India was highlighted in 2015 by the Standing Committee on Information Technology.   It would be useful for dedicated cyber-crime departments to be established in all districts. This would be a step in the right direction to provide the requisite capacity and resources to deal with the various technical issues such as attribution, jurisdiction, etc. arising out of ICT incidents.

(d) States should consider how best to cooperate to exchange information, assist each other, prosecute terrorist and criminal use of ICTs and implement other cooperative measures to address such threats. States may need to consider whether new measures need to be developed in this respect;

Owing to the growing irrelevance of physical and political borders in the age of globally networked devices, one of the most important issues arising out of ICTs and cyber-crimes is the need for greater and more efficient exchange of information between nations. It has been widely accepted that sharing of information on a regular and sustained basis between nation states would be a very important tool. Limitations in the traditional mechanisms (MLATs, Letters Rogatory, etc.) such as the delay in accessing the information as well as denial of access due to differences in legal standards, present hurdles to the efficacy of law enforcement agencies only emphasize the urgency of developing a new mechanism of international information sharing that would be able to deal with ICT incidents, while at the same time protecting the freedoms and privacy rights of the citizens of the world. Exploration and participation in dialogues and solutions that are evolving at the international level around cross border sharing of information is key.

(i) States should take reasonable steps to ensure the integrity of the supply chain [of ICT equipment] so that end users can have confidence in the security of ICT products. States should seek to prevent the proliferation of malicious ICT tools and techniques and the use of harmful hidden functions;

While the National Electronics Policy of 2012 states that the government should mandate technical and safety standards in order to curb the inflow of sub-standard and unsafe electronic products, the government is yet to mandate any broad standards in the Indian market for ICT equipment. Considering the enormous security implications of compromised ICT this is an area where the government should prioritisemust act immediately. Mandating standards may require the establishment of a monitoring or enforcement mechanism to ensure that the standards are being implemented. This should be done with the aim of ensuring security while not hindering innovation or the flow of business. To achieve such a balance, research and discussion is needed within the government to formulate a mechanism which would ensure the safety and quality of ICT tools while at the same time ensuring that industry is not hindered.

 

Conclusion

The suggestions given above are some of the major lessons from the analysis of the UN Report on ICT which CIS believe the government of India could adopt and pursue to strengthen its enlightenment with the recommendations of the Report. It is also imperative that the Government of India continues to realise the importance of the work being done by the Group of Governmental Experts and take measures to ensure that a representative from India is included in future Groups. Meanwhile, India can take positive steps by strengthening domestic privacy safeguards, improving transparency and efficiency of relevant policies and processes, and looking towards solutions that respect rights and strengthen security.