Yesterday, in the conclave on “Securing Cyber Space” at IIC, Delhi, experts from different NGOs spoke on the topic of Civil Society Consultations on Net issues such as net Neutrality and Internet Shutdowns before an august audience of Cyber Security professionals.

Naavi speaking on the occasion discussed the concerns of the civil society and how it needs to be addressed.

He recalled the instance when around the year 2000, Mumbai High Court listening to a public interest case on whether people should be asked to produce IDs for visiting Cyber Cafes mandated that an Internet article of Naavi was to be placed on the Government website of VSNL (at that time VSNL was the sole Internet service provider) along with the proposal of the Government and ensure that the larger public could react. This trend is what the Internet has brought to the domain of Civil Society consultations. In fact Draft E-commerce Act 1998 which was the pre-cursor to the current Information Technology Act was also perhaps the first legislatory “Bill” to be placed for public comments. Even recently we have seen that in the Bitcoin issue was discussed on the forum of to solicit public opinion.

RBI is also frequently placing draft regulations for public comments before they are finalized.

There is no doubt that this is the norm and in future all legislations when in draft form would be placed for public comments. It is a good practice and needs to be strengthened.

However, the consultations will have meaning only when proper representation of the “Civil Society” is allowed to contribute their views and the decision makers actually take those views into consideration.

We have some times seen that the web based collection of views is only a formality and public really donot know if the views really go into the decision making process as an input. There are also instances (eg Bitcoin consultation) that vested interests take over such consultation process and flood the forum like a Twitter troll with their views corrupting the process. In the Bitcoin issue, MCX which as an insider to the process of Bitcoin regulation was caught using the forum to express vested interests and it was left to vigilantes like the undersigned to call their unethical act.

Similarly, when RBI floated a “Limited Liability Draft Circular” on August 11, 2016 and closed the consultations on 30th August 2016, the final rule was expected soon after. But it took time upto July 6, 2017 for the draft circular to be confirmed and that too after the undersigned brought it to the attention of all concerned including our busy PM, FM and others. In this time there were many more banking frauds where the victims could not get timely reaction from the Banks. Though the final notification is well appreciated, the delay could have been avoided and indicated that there was perhaps some differences of opinion that had to be contended with.

Presently there  are many other issues such as AEPS, P2P lending, HDPSA, amendments to ITA 2008, new Data Protection Act, Cyber Insurance etc which are under different stages of development in which public consultation is called for.

If we observe how US has handled the HIPAA consultation process (Refer to the Final Omnibus Rule”) the document that was finally published discusses the various comments made and the reasons why it was considered or not considered. The process is trust building since public know why a certain rule was made.

We need to adopt such a process of “Revealing the public response” along with what were the views of the decision making committee on specific points made in the response (after filtering ¬†troll like opinions) and why a decision was finally taken was in a particular manner should be used in all future consultations.

It is needless to say that when a more detailed consultation with physical meetings are held it is the duty of the consultative committee to ensure that the Civil society representatives they chose to consult are limited to the few vocal media facing persons located near the seat of power. There has to be consultations in other places down south also so that a wide set of view points are used before coming to the final decision.

(These are part of the discussions…will be continued)