Do we need laws to regulate the internet?co
Before we think aloud on this interesting question, let’s define what we mean by “Law” and what we mean by “Internet” in this context.
Normally we understand “Law” as a codification (statute) of regulation that a Government imposes on its Citizens and makes it punishable if some body fails to comply with law. The Law Enforcement system and the Judiciary exist to ensure compliance of law. The three wings namely the Law Maker (Government), the Law Enforcer (Police) and the Law Adjudicator (Judiciary) form the totality of the system that defines “Law”.
The purpose of “Law” is to enable “Co-existence” of members of a community. If there is no “Law” then each member of a community will behave in a manner which best suits him and hence his behaviour comes into conflict with the society the moment he comes into an interaction with another member of the society. In the context of our debate, the term “Internet” therefore refers to the “Community of Netizens” rather than the hardware system that creates the Internet or the content lying on the Internet hardware that creates the worldwide web.
If law is an essential instrument of “Living together” in a community, it is necessary for us to accept that “Law is essential” for the regulation of the Netizens as a community. We can state that the community of “Netizens” who wish to live together as “Netizens” need a set of regulations so that they can live together harmoniously.
If however we feel the need to raise a debate “whether law is required to regulate the Internet?”, it is an indication that “we as the society where we live in” seem to think that the “Law as it exists” has failed.
If the society is unhappy with the “Law”, the dissenting members will defy the law. When the defiance is of a few people, the law enforcement system may suppress dissent and maintain the law imposing punishments on the law breakers.
But if the disagreement with the law expands to a larger section of the society, Defiance grows into Non co-operation, Mutiny, Civil War and a Revolution. This pattern is part of the global history. These lessons of history are now staring before our eyes when we discuss the regulation of the Internet Society today and indicates that the “Law as it exists today to regulate Internet” has started failing. Dissent is emerging and is gaining strength. If not contained, this may escalate into more undesirable forms of protest.
It is therefore a good time to reflect why this situation has developed and what should we do to reverse this trend and who should start this process of reversal.
Recently objections have been raised on the Government invoking ITA 2008 provisions against political cartoonists and websites hosting political criticism. Simultaneously the copyright owners of some films have persuaded Courts to issue “John Doe Orders” to shut down a number of websites. Additionally ISPs are themselves blocking many websites without either a judicial or Government order. As a result, many websites today are not accessible from India. The system is such that once a website is blocked, it never gets unblocked. Over a period of time therefore, we will find that Indians will be denied of a good part of Internet.
If the blockings were for an acceptable reason such as national security or prevention of crime, the Community would have supported the move. However if political considerations and commercial interests are behind the Internet censorship, it is natural that there would be widespread opposition to the regulation.
The recent Anonymous protests are an indication that the community of Netizens are slowly raising their voice against the current regulatory actions and by default the entire Internet regulation has now come to be challenged. If we donot understand the root cause of the current dispute and correct it, Internet may face a stiff challenge of existence.
The recent take over of may ISP systems by the Anonymous group indicates how vulnerable we are. It is only a thin line between the current protests which have remained mostly as a show of strength and registration of protest and an all out attack from an agency inimical to Indian interests to bring the Indian Internet system to a grinding halt at a critical time.
We can therefore say that presently more than the captioned question, what is relevant is “What changes do we need in the regulation of the Internet?”. In this direction I would like to place before the public a few suggestions.
Suggestion 1: Governance by Netizens :
We should first recognize and appreciate that the Regulation of the Internet is for the society inhabited by the “Netizens”. It is unacceptable that the regulation for the Netizens is being done by Non Netizens.
We therefore need a regulation “Of the Netizens, For the Netizens, by the Netizens”.
The “Cyber society” needs to be recognized as a single or a federation of “Cyber Nations” and regulations thereof have to be done with a full system of law enforcement and judiciary in the Cyber Space itself.
Cyber Nationality needs to be recognized and Cyber Passports need to be issued.
Such a regulation has to be administered by a body of the Netizens and not physical society Government.
The essence of this suggestion is that the current regulators have to abdicate their exclusive control on regulating the matters of the Internet just as the British acceded to the call for Indian Independence.
A practical tool of such a regulation is the concept already outlined as the “Theory of Regulated Anonymity” by the author in his article at http://www.naavi.org . This system envisages the administration of Netizen identity with a Netizen body outside the control of any one Nation’s control and management of an interface which works between the system and the individual nations to meet their concerns.
Suggestion 2: Treaty between the Cyber Society and the Physical Society
Naturally there will be disputes between Netizens and Citizens and they need to be resolved. This is nothing different from the current state where there could be disputes between an Indian Citizen and a US Citizen or an Italian Citizen.
We need to develop “Inter Society Dispute resolution Process”. This will be in the form of a “Treaty” between the Cyber Society of Netizens and the Physical society of “Citizens” with the full knowledge that they keep moving across more frequently than they move today between one nation and the other.
Suggestion 3: Creation of a Cyber Nation
In support of the above system of regulation, there is a need to adopt a “Declaration of Independence” of the Netizens and develop a body of Netizen regulation where the administrators are voted by the Netizens through a virtual ballot.
ICANN can play a role if the physical nation regulators give up their hold on ICANN and hand over ICANN to the independent Cyber Society. If ICANN wants to remain with the physical society, we need to develop a Virtual ICANN which can manage a separate Internet network outside the current network and slowly build it up with Netizen membership and content creation. Current websites may migrate to this new Virtual Nation if