December 2, 2004

Welcome Vittorio! (and other thoughts on the WSIS/WGIG)

I was glad to see Vittorio Bertola appointed to the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG), part of the UN WSIS effort.

His report from Capetown is illuminating:

Consider his comments about what ICANN is evolving into:

it seems to me that the gnso is trying to exert the authority of global law enforcement system and turning icann into a global police of the internet, that takes care (and is thus responsible) for crimes that are committed through the internet.

moreover, it scares me that all the architecture of national and international legal due process that humanity has been building for the last thousand years can be suddenly thrown into the trashcan by a handful of people in a room.

I agree.  And as I have mentioned elsewhere - ICANN is evolving into a new kind of mini-government without land - and without accountability.

ICANN is not doing what it should be doing - which is to guarantee to the community of internet users that the technical aspects of DNS and that IP address allocation work.  Rather ICANN has become the pliant tool of the intellectual property and DNS registry/registrar industry.  Vittorio's phrase "global police of the internet" very much captures what ICANN is in the eyes of the intellectual property industry.

Susan Crawford in one of her reports from Capetown expressed concern should those necessary jobs of internet governance and coordination be vested into governmental bodies.  In this case I disagree with her analysis.  ICANN is being imbued with plenary powers over an important part of the internet.  Yet ICANN is becoming increasingly accountable to no person and no country.  That kind of accountable-only-to-self is a hallmark of governmental power.  To my mind it really doesn't matter whether we label ICANN or public or private.  No matter what adjective we apply ICANN presents the same dangers that were feared by those 18th century thinkers who created the philosophical foundations for the modern democratic nation-state.  As such it is only prudent to apply to ICANN, or its successor(s), the same kinds of controls that have been used to create constitutional democracies - separations of powers, checks-and-balances, articulated realms of authority, ambition countering ambition.

In another one of Susan Crawford's postings she quoted Paul Kane saying:

The point here is that many aspects of the Internet are not being suggested as topics of Governance, simply because they currently work well enough not to be on the radar. These include such things as the routing system (which is pretty stable)...

I believe that Paul letting his fear of governmental intrusion get in the way of an objective examination of the true state of network operation.  The packet routing system of the internet - a matter that is closely tied to IP address allocation (one of ICANN's lost responsibilities) has dark clouds on the horizon.  There was a thread on the NANOG mailing list this week about exactly this issue.  Indeed one person prominent in the business of building routers (and router-making companies) suggested that governmental regulation of some kind might be necessary to prevent routing becoming yet another tragedy of the commons.

Earlier this year a conference was held in Los Angeles regarding forces that are destabilizing and fragmenting the internet.  Some of those issues such as lack of oversight of root server operations (yet another one of ICANN's lost responsibilities) and packet routing - particularly as usable VOIP requires time-critical end-to-end, cross-carrier,  performance - were identified as areas for concern.

The point of all of this is that it is pointless to argue the tired old Reagan-Thatcher line that governmental powers are best exercised by private actors.  When stripped of emotion and rose colored glasses of self-interest it is obvious that the role of oversight, coordination, or governance (pick your favorite word, it really doesn't matter) is an exercise of authority that must be well defined and well limited else it can become a kind of tyranny.  This is not an idle thought - we have watched ICANN evolve into a body that is creating, without any technical justification whatsoever, a worldwide intellectual property law and imposing a rigid and anti-innovative business model over the internet's domain name system while simultaneously working to nullify ICANN's accountability to internet users and national governments.

Posted by karl at December 2, 2004 1:17 AM