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Indo-French digital partnership

On 22 August 2019, just a week before the G7 Summit in Biarritz, India and France released a roadmap on cyber security and digital technology. With its focus on 5G technologies, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and quantum computing, this document opens an important chapter in the Indo-French strategic partnership. India has a number of ongoing cyber and cyber security dialogues with countries such as Australia, United Kingdom, United States and Japan, but France is the only country – after the U.S.[1] – with which India has signed such a detailed framework of cooperation.

The agreement is distinctive for its focus on three issues, namely, 5G, AI and Quantum Computing: France holds a technological lead in all of them and this is how the agreement can be mutually beneficial.

  1. Collaboration on 5G technologies:

An important aspect of the ongoing U.S.-China trade dispute is 5G technologies. India and France have similar concerns, especially over Huawei products allegedly being used for surveillance by the Chinese government. Indian officials have highlighted the security concerns surrounding Huawei equipment, but not yet taken a decision on whether to disallow the use of its equipment.  France appears  more forthcoming on the issue:- a new bill, passed by the French parliament and awaiting  President Macron’s approval, will enable the government to vet 5G rollouts from a security standpoint.  The document states that the two countries will together tackle the challenges arising out of 5G implementation: network security will be one of them.

For instance, 5G will be an enabler for the Internet of things (IoT), connecting the physical world to the Internet. As the internet network expands to include products like home appliances and cars, hackers will have new avenues to carry out cyber attacks.  The document envisions a sharing of information on the legal and regulatory framework and best practices, including protection of Economic Information Infrastructure impacting national security.

  1. Regulation of Artificial Intelligence:

France is already in the race to become an AI leader, and last March announced an investment of €1.5-billion in AI research. A year later, in May 2019, in partnership with Canada, it launched the International Panel on Artificial Intelligence (IPAI) which focuses on the ethical usage of AI while promoting economic growth.

With India confirming its participation in the IPAI, the roadmap states that India and France will mobilise a corpus of €2 million annually through a consortium comprising government, industry and academia for the advancement of AI research. AI research in India has been mostly concentrated in the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs) and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). Partnering with France will help India consolidate its as yet small body of research on this subject.

  1. Quantum and advanced computing:

France’s most powerful supercomputer ranks 11th in the world; India’s ranks 53rd. The French private sector, which forms a critical part of the nation’s quantum computing ecosystem, is also contributing to the funding. For instance, a private venture fund, called Quantonation, has been created to support start ups in this field. The fund is expected to raise €40 million for this.

India will gain from French experience in this field. Both countries have activated a new French tech visa system for Indian engineers and entrepreneurs to benefit from the French quantum computing ecosystem: the French government recently created a tech community in Bangalore to facilitate such exchanges. The roadmap also envisages the creation of an Indo-French Centre of Excellence in Quantum Calculation in Pune to boost research.

The plan for India-France cyber cooperation is ambitious. Yet, with its focus on transformative technologies such as 5G and quantum computing, it will help India become cyber- and tech-resilient. The roadmap affirmed France and India’s commitment to keep cyberspace open, secure and stable.  This partnership will be coordinated by the French Ministry of the Economy and Finance and the Indian Ministry of Electronics and IT.

As India is expected to release a new National Policy for cybersecurity in January 2020, the emphasis on cybersecurity in this roadmap will guide India’s tech policy makers.

Sagnik Chakraborty is Researcher, Cybersecurity Studies, and Manager, Management Office, Gateway House.

This blog was exclusively written for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive content here.

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[1] In 2016, India and U.S. signed a Cyber Relationship Framework. < https://in.usembassy.gov/framework-u-s-india-cyber-relationship/>