New Delhi, April 15: The Narendra Modi government is scouring the latest online security plans of other major nations in a bid to plug holes in India's cyber security without resorting to a new avatar of a controversial law struck down by the Supreme Court in March.
Deputy national security adviser Arvind Gupta will represent India at a key global cyber security conference at The Hague starting tomorrow, where India will also join a team of nations that will exchange "best practices," senior officials have told The Telegraph.
The conference will be attended by ministers or ambassadors from 99 countries, and Federica Mogherini, the foreign affairs chief of the European Union. Gupta, a former career diplomat, is widely regarded as one of the Modi government's sharpest brains on cyber security.
The Global Conference on Cyberspace, hosted by the government of the Netherlands, follows two similar conferences - one in Brazil and the other in India - where key developing nations challenged US supremacy over the governance of the Internet.
At The Hague too, India is expected to articulate its demand for more broad-based Internet governance - fundamentally about delinking the power to control the online world from the physical location of Internet servers, most of which are in the US.
But equally, officials said, the Indian team at the conference will try and glean from other nations their latest strategies in balancing the twin aims of battling cybercrime and ensuring online privacy - a living debate in India after the apex court order.
"For us, this is an important opportunity to learn from others, but to also share our experiences - good and bad," an official said. "There's a sense we are behind the ball a bit, both on cybercrime and on finding the balance between security and privacy. We want to correct that."
The Supreme Court had last month scrapped Section 66A of the Information Technology Act that was brought by the earlier UPA government but was continued with by the Modi administration.
The section, the court concluded, was not necessary to combat cybercrime, and instead allowed governments to stifle free speech by arresting online critics - like the Bengal government's arrest of a professor who shared a caricature of chief minister Mamata Banerjee on the Internet.
But some in the government argue that while arrests for cybercrimes can be made even without the IT Act and its provisions, current Indian law is unclear on the extent of online surveillance security agencies can engage in.
In Canada, where Modi today held talks with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, security agencies used cyber laws to track extremist views on Internet profiles of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who would go on to attack the Parliament complex in Ottawa weeks later. But the absence of any legal provision to arrest him for his views prevented an arrest.
"The question is - do we want a Canada-style law?" a second Indian official asked, adding that the government was divided on the subject.
Many in the government believe a new law is unnecessary and better coordination with online service providers, clearer instructions to security agencies, and enhanced global cooperation for transnational crimes could suffice.