Nearly 80 participants attended the EU-sponsored hearing on internet governance Wednesday. The hearing was held the day before a private meeting of the EC’s High Level Internet Governance Group (HLIGG), as a way of gathering opinions and ideas. Participants who came eager to discuss and explore Commissioner Viviane Reding’s call for new forms of accountability and oversight of ICANN quickly learned that her proposal was off-limits. Reding’s paper, we learned, was her own personal initiative, not an official or vetted product of the EC. Members of the HLIGG were as surprised by it as the rest of us and did not want discussion of it to dominate the hearing.
One of the focal points of this meeting was supposed to be the role of public authorities (i.e., national states) in Internet governance. There were some good exchanges on that topic, but the only conclusion one can draw is that thinking on that vital topic has not matured yet. Aside from vague appeals to “multi-stakeholderism” and some legitimate but increasingly repetitive warnings about how clumsy state intervention could mess things up, the riddle of how to combine the flexibility and expertise of private sector-based governance with input from governments and (more importantly) the legal protections of basic rights and due process protections remains unsolved. I think it will be several years before thinking on this issue advances to the stage where people understand and feel comfortable with the alternatives and their implications, and that means that efforts to detach ICANN from the U.S. government could be delayed for some time.
In the opening session on WSIS, praise for the IGF and the “multistakeholder principle” was effusive at times. ISOC’s Lynn St. Amour admitted that it hadn't initially supported the IGF, but does now. As if on cue, other ISOC and business representatives – Patrik Faltstrom, Paul Kane, Jean-Jacques Subrenat, AFNIC’s Matthieu Weill, and a representative of the Euro-American Business Council – all chimed in with their support for the IGF and its continuation. In summing up the session on WSIS, the Chair of the HLIGG told the gathering that the EU will favor extending the life of the Internet Governance Forum for another 5 years, followed by a review. Wolfgang Kleinwachter gently reminded the Group that it would have been nice for the rest of the world to know that this review was going on and what its timetable was.
The discussion of cybersecurity was probably the most interesting part of the meeting.
My intervention recited the heavy activity in US around the topic of cybersecurity and warned about the threat of a cyber cold war that could fragment policy and undermine the global, transnational nature of the internet. It also noted that ICANN’s involvement in the response to the Conficker worm underscored the need for flexible global institutions with strong ties to technical expertise. ICANN CEO Paul Twomey echoed and agreed with many of my themes. Claiming that the Internet is “the only truly global technology,” he said that the greatest threat to the internet is an “inappropriate response on the part of nation-states to problem of cybersecurity,” which could lead to fragmentation and an “online mercantilism.” Malcolm Hutty (EuroISPA), Sabine Dolderer (DENIC) and Thomas Roessler (W3C) echoed warnings that national Internet security policies could undermine the security, stability and interoperability of the Internet.
We also discussed DNSSEC, and the High Level Group was told that it should not be rushed into going along with a U.S. or VeriSign-dominated root-signing procedure because the option of an interim Trust Anchor Repository existed. ICANN’s Twomey noted that ICANN already maintained a TAR. Patrik Falstrom, however, noted that having too many TARs could cause problems that could detract from security.
Janis Karklins, the current chair of the GAC, took issue with my submission criticizing GAC as a silo that created a parallel policy process in ICANN. It is true that Karklins has led efforts to open up GAC, which is good, but he was not able to dispute my point that there is no longer a real need for a special, segregated place for governments. If they have the expertise and the interest, they can and should participate alongside all the other stakeholders in the policy development process. Karklins understands the cultural and institutional barriers to this, but it's time for change. The problem is that GAC might be retained not because it is useful or needed, but simply due to inertia and organizational loyalties on the part of the people who have spent so much time working on it.