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[alac] [fwd] [IP] The Net's Faltering Democracy (from: dave@farber.net)

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  • Subject: [alac] [fwd] [IP] The Net's Faltering Democracy (from: dave@farber.net)
  • From: Thomas Roessler <roessler@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2003 14:26:24 +0100

Thomas Roessler                        <roessler@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>

----- Forwarded message from Dave Farber <dave@xxxxxxxxxx> -----

From: Dave Farber <dave@xxxxxxxxxx>
To: ip <ip@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2003 08:01:52 -0500
Subject: [IP] The Net's Faltering Democracy
Reply-To: dave@xxxxxxxxxx
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Delivery-date: Thu, 20 Feb 2003 14:04:22 +0100
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> From: "Simson L. Garfinkel" <simsong@xxxxxxxxxxx>
> The Net's Faltering Democracy
> The Net Effect   By Simson Garfinkel
> Why does a corporation with no accountability have so much control over the
> Internet?

> Critics charge that it is the De Beers of the Internet: an organization that,
> like the diamond cartel, has created an artificial scarcity to protect a few
> established players. Worse, they say, whatever claims this body once had to
> legitimacy were wiped away last year when its board voted to abolish
> elections.
> This faceless power center is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and
> Numbers, or ICANN. And its actions may jeopardize the future of the Internet.
> The Internet could evolve into a global commons where people all over the
> world are free to communicate and interact and to distribute and consume an
> endless variety of literature and media. Or it could become a tool for
> enforcing corporate control and governmental censorship. Which direction the
> Internet takes depends in large part on which policies and technologies ICANN
> supports.
> Many people think the Internet can never be subject to centralized control.
> Wasn't this global distributed network built to withstand a thermonuclear
> attack? Doesn't it treat censorship as damage and route around it? So goes
> popular Net mythology. But in reality, the Internet is a human institution.
> And like a corporation, nation, or family, it can be led astray.
> Global communication requires global standards, and it is here that the ICANN
> has its grip on the system's choke point. This company sets rules that govern
> the worldwide assignment of all-important domain names. Its rules are
> incorporated into contracts and passed on to anybody who gets a dot-com,
> dot-net, dot-org, or dot-info domain. The best-known of these rules is the
> Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy. If you have a top-level domain
> name, you've agreed to this policy. ICANN's glacial pace for establishing new
> top-level domains has been a great help to domain registrars such as VeriSign:
> they profit from the lack of competition. Because there is a limited number of
> registrars and a limited number of top-level domains, the worldwide
> domain-name business is directed to the incumbents. The dispute resolution
> policy creates procedures that can be used to seize a domain name from one
> organization and hand it to another. This policy has been widely hailed as a
> boon for trademark holders worldwide.
> ICANN's second mode of control is in its ultimate allotment of Internet
> Protocol addresses-the Internet's equivalent of phone numbers. Theoretically,
> control of domain names and Internet addresses could be exploited for purposes
> that range from stifling competition among Internet service providers to
> shutting down an entire country's access to the Net. Imagine if instead of
> having to take Napster to court, the recording industry had been able to
> bypass the courts and shut down Napster simply by nullifying its domain name
> and addresses.
> None of this would be a big deal if we were talking about an international
> organization whose policymaking machinery was responsive to the needs of
> Internet users. But that's not the case: ICANN, a private corporation, is
> chartered by the state of California and answerable to no one. It is an
> outgrowth of the Clinton administration's attempts to privatize control of the
> Internet; ICANN's authority comes from a "memorandum of understanding" with
> the U.S. Department of Commerce. Handed a letter of agreement and a board of
> directors, the corporation was told to go forth and make policy.
> The one attribute the U.S. government couldn't confer on this outfit was
> legitimacy. The Internet is supposed to be a global resource, so ICANN's
> original plan called for Internet users worldwide to elect nine at-large
> directors. Those directors, together with nine other directors appointed by
> important Internet interest groups, would ultimately craft the policy of the
> global information infrastructure.
> ICANN was designed to have the efficiency of private enterprise, but it was
> somehow supposed to acquire the legitimacy of an elected government. Alas,
> this proved to be an impossible task. The election was a flop. Voter
> registration took place in the summer of 2000. ICANN says 158,000 Internet
> users-far more than had been expected-tried to register. Only 75,000 of them
> completed the elaborate verification process, which entailed getting a
> personal identification number by e-mail and then typing it into a Web site.
> And in the end, only 34,000 people voted in October 2000. But those numbers
> actually overstate the level of user participation: in North America,
> according to Election.com, the company hired to run the election, a mere 3,449
> votes were cast. Karl Auerbach, the candidate elected to represent the United
> States and Canada, received 1,725 of those votes. Although that's a majority,
> it's an exceedingly tiny fraction of the Internet's user population.
> But ICANN need not worry about more sham elections. When the company's board
> of directors amended its bylaws last December, it eliminated elections and
> instituted an advisory committee-at-large whose members-chosen by other
> committees-lack real power. Maybe that's okay. "ICANN is not an experiment in
> global online democracy," says Stuart Lynn, ICANN's president and CEO. "So the
> board decided that, at least for now, elections were not to go on."
> Perhaps ICANN serves as a model for systematically shutting the public out of
> messy policy debates and letting the appointed representatives of global
> business take over.
> Perhaps democracy is overrated.
> Simson Garfinkel writes on information technology and its impact. He is the
> author of Database Nation (O'Reilly, 2000).
> Copyright 2003 Technology Review, Inc. All rights reserved

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