Speech on the theme 'Security of individuals in the Parliamentary Context and Beyond' with Sub-themes on 1)Emerging cyber security issues and the implications on parliamentary privilege; 2) Social media as an effective tool, not a weapon and 3) Ensuring continued access, yet security of individuals, 25th Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth (CSPOC), Canada, 6-10 January 2020.
Hon'ble Chairperson, Distinguished delegates:
I deem it my privilege to have this opportunity to share my views with this august gathering on this important subject, “Security of individuals in the Parliamentary Context and Beyond” with reference to the emerging cyber security issues and its implications on parliamentary privileges, social media as an effective tool and ensuring continued access, yet securing the security of individuals. As a representative and law-making body, there is no doubt that Parliament holds a pivotal position in any democratic system, and the way in which Parliaments connect with the people has changed today with the arrival of internet and a variety of social networking tools.
Nothing explains it better than the definition of e-Parliament given in the World e-Parliament Report – 2018 brought out by none other than the Inter Parliamentary Union, Geneva.
“An e-Parliament places technologies, knowledge and standards at the heart of its business processes and embodies the values of collaboration, inclusiveness, participation and openness to the people.”
We in India too, have witnessed a significant rise in cyber space activities and we have not only become one of the major IT destinations in the world, but have the third largest number of internet users in the world today. The number of internet users in our country has grown six fold between 2012-2017, with a compound annual growth rate of 44 percent. Such phenomenal growth in access to information and connectivity has, on the other hand, empowered the citizens, on the other hand, it has also posed new challenges because of the need to tackle the emerging cyber crime that comes along with it.
The emergence of the internet, especially in the last two decades, has been a boon for parliaments too, as the digital technologies allow parliaments to create, modernize and manage more complex activities enabling members to closely follow the legislative process. They have the potential for revitalizing public engagement in political discussions and the decision-making processes. I am sure, the Parliaments would find it difficult to manage information, track things like the Bills and amendments, etc. without the support of such systems. In the Indian Parliament, we have been using the Information and Communication Technologies in the legislative document management also for quite some time now. We have a well maintained website of our Parliament where all the recent proceedings, Bills, documents, speeches, debates, discussions, etc can be found easily by anyone around the world at the click of the mouse. Digital tools have indeed increased peoples' access to the documents and activities of the Parliament and in the process, enhancing its accountability and transparency of the system. Digitization also facilitates the emergence of a significantly transparent and accountable government through the means of the adoption of e-Voting and e-Participation options. e-Democracy contributes towards making democracy more accessible to citizens by increasing their participation and involvement in decision-making.
There is no doubt that the Information and Communication Technologies has brought in tremendous transformation in all spheres of our lives, and have offered new opportunities enabling us to achieve more in less time. The application cuts across all fields, be it medicine, commerce, engineering, architecture, education, library services or agriculture. Information and Communication Technologies have been transforming our society, our economy, and virtually all spheres of our lives as it applies to almost every aspect of our lives. The development of e-parliaments or e-legislatures transformed the way in which we fulfill our responsibilities as representatives of the people. We also use it to make our Parliament much more efficient and strive to give greater access to government services and make legislators more representative. To improve parliamentary process, the use of ICT seems inevitable to me.
“In fact the e-Parliament Report 2018 of Inter Parliamentary Union, Geneva has also flagged some important trends which need our immediate attention as Presiding Officer. They include:
(i) Digital technologies are now firmly embedded with clearly identified governance and technology practices in most parliaments. In parallel, while members remain politically committed to ICT, their managerial role is diminishing as ICT becomes more embedded in Parliament’s work.
(ii) The rise in the adoption of eXtensible Markup Language (XML) has levelled off, suggesting it is now a mature technology for parliaments – in some cases because the systems have now been implemented, but in others because the need has yet to be recognized.
(iii) The use of instant messaging has seen a significant increase, and social media use also continues to rise.
(iv) Digital broadcasting and video streaming have overtaken traditional broadcasting, while the use of radio has shown the first signs of shrinking.
(v) Barriers to greater use of ICT include training and skill deficits among staff and members, and growing concerns over security and reliability. Knowledge of how parliaments work is seen as the biggest barrier to greater citizen engagement.
(vi) Over a third of the parliaments surveyed now collaborate directly with parliamentary monitoring organizations (PMOs).
(vii) Inter-parliamentary support is needed in strong demand in many areas of ICT, ranging from the new media and social tools to traditional ICT functions.
As we all are aware, social media has expanded its reach beyond territorial boundaries and connected parliamentarians and peoples across the globe. As per the 2016 world e-parliament Report, social media tools overtook television and radio for the first time as the most commonly used media for communicating with the citizens. Social media can help in promoting good governance and expose abuses of power and corruption by those in power. Given its characteristics of immediate outreach, it offers a unique opportunity to engage with the stakeholders. Many governments across the world as well as many government agencies in India are using various social media platforms to reach out to the citizens, businesses and experts to seek inputs into policy making, get feedback on service delivery, create community based programmes, etc. An e-Portal, namely the Members' Portal is offering several online services to the Members including submission of Notices for various Parliamentary devices in electronic form, online references, etc. Necessary changes in the Rules have been made to facilitate the Members to submit their Petitions online as well.
Social media is increasingly becoming an integral part of life as the websites and applications pertaining to them are proliferating. At the same time, let us also remember that cyberspace, taking a centre stage at the social media platform, is vulnerable to a wide variety of incidents and can be exploited. However, it has also some side effects. Some of the visible disadvantages of social media for the society include Cyber bullying; Hacking; Addiction; Fraud and Scams; Security Issues; potential for misuse damaging someone's reputation; health issues; etc. As such, a prudent Cyber Security Policy is indeed the need of the hour. In fact, one of the most serious challenges of the twenty-first century could perhaps be in the area of information security due to its existing and potential threats, as this may cause substantial damage to national and international security.
The new information technologies have also the potential to be manipulated by miscreants and antisocial elements. The anonymity and borderless characteristics associated with cyber space has enormous potential for damage and mischief. This characteristics makes cyber security a major concern across the globe since it is being exploited by criminals and terrorists to carry out identity theft, steal information, plant malicious software, etc. All these can have implications even on parliamentary privileges that Members enjoy in discharging their duties. Intercepting the mobile phone messages of elected Members, tapping their phones, bugging their conversations, intercepting their e-mails, etc. can not only be criminal, but could also be a breach of parliamentary privilege especially if it happens to be centred around the words spoken and acts done in the course of transacting the business of either House of Parliament or of a committee. Let us remember that parliamentary privilege consists of the rights and immunities which the two Houses of Parliament and their members and officers possess to enable them to carry out their parliamentary functions effectively. The emergence of cloud and mobile technology has further complicated the cyber threat landscape. All this makes cyber security an issue of critical importance with deep implications.
In India, we have our own coherent cyber security policy confirming to our national security and economic development. We are in fact, gearing up to bring in new encryption and privacy policies to take on growing cyber security challenges. Though ‘Police’ and ‘Public Order’ are subjects vested in the Provincial Legislatures by the Constitution of India, the law enforcement agencies take legal action as per the provisions of law against the cyber crime offenders. The Government of India has taken proactive steps to spread awareness about cyber crimes, issue of alerts/advisories, capacity building/training of law enforcement personnel/prosecutors/judicial officers, improving cyber forensics facilities, etc. to prevent such crimes and to speed up investigation. The Government has also launched the online cybercrime reporting portal, www.cybercrime.gov.in. The Government has also rolled out a scheme for the establishment of Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre to handle issues related to cybercrime in the country in a comprehensive and coordinated manner. Further, the Government of India has taken several steps to prevent and mitigate cyber security incidents.
Cyberspace taking a centre stage at the social media platform is vulnerable to a wide variety of incidents, whether intentional or accidental, man-made or natural, and the data exchanged in the cyberspace can be exploited for nefarious purposes by both nation- states and non-state actors. Tackling cybercrime requires a multi-stakeholder approach with inputs from all sectors. As such, countries around the world would further need to enhance the capacity to bring about more awareness, understanding and capacity to deploy appropriate strategies accordingly.
Friends, I am sure that our deliberations today will help us go a long way towards securing security of individuals in the parliamentary context and beyond from the emerging cyber security issues; using social media as an effective tool and ensuring continued access, while maintaining the security of individuals at the same time.