Casting a wider net
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This week's announcement by the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), that the government will engage the private sector on cybersecurity, is important for two reasons. The first and the obvious is that the government has recognised that managing threats from cyberspace requires coordination across departments with high-level leadership. For several years now, it has been clear that the approach of individual ministries on dealing with matters within their turf is inadequate, because cyberspace issues do not fall into neat pigeonholes mirroring the government's structure. The more recent practice of forming ad hoc inter-ministerial committees on specific issues is an improvement, but the mileage can vary depending on circumstances. So, placing the subject within an institutional framework under the NSCS is a step in the right direction.
Less obvious, and perhaps more important, the government has realised it cannot develop the capacity to govern cyberspace on its own. The proposal to "set up a permanent mechanism for private public partnership" that taps into the expertise and human resources available in the country, and not just the government, could pave the way for correcting India's governance deficit. It is not about giving prominent individuals, NGOs and corporations an advisory or consultative role. It is about nurturing and employing people from the private sector with the appropriate expertise and domain knowledge to address the policy challenges that India faces.
While the proposals outlined by the NSCS encompass security standards, audits, testing, certification and pilot projects, the critical issue is that of capacity. Even if we cast the net wide enough to include Indians outside the government and perhaps outside the country, just where are we to find qualified people in sufficient numbers? Would such people be willing to forgo the salaries, careers and lifestyles offered by the software industry to take up a job in the government? Is the government capable of absorbing such talent — with all the necessary procedural, organisational and cultural changes the process demands? While the NSCS has rightly decided to invest in the education and training of cybersecurity professionals "in mission mode", without simultaneous reform of the civil services, such measures will deliver less than optimal results.