Doublespeak from the NTIA

Our warnings against the GAC top level domain veto are getting attention. The story has been picked up by Ars Technica, CBS and CNET News and widely tweeted. An interesting new argument has surfaced in this controversy. As more and more reporters ask the U.S. government what the heck it is doing, the NTIA is issuing a stock answer.  Try not to laugh when you read it.

NTIA is telling reporters that its proposed veto procedure “diminishes the potential for blocking of top level domain strings considered objectionable by governments. This type of blocking harms the architecture of the DNS and undermines the goal of universal resolvability (i.e., a single global Internet that facilitates the free flow of goods and services and freedom of expression).”

That's doublespeak. Let's translate it into plain English. NTIA is saying that it wants Governments to veto any controversial domain so that individual national governments won't block it on their own. In other words, they want to use ICANN to block – on a global basis – anything that a national government might block locally. So instead Internet users being denied access in one country, Internet users in all countries will be denied access. And they are saying that this is a big advance for freedom of expression and the free flow of information!

Let's spell out NTIA's twisted logic in a bit more detail. China now blocks thousands of second-level domains. According to NTIA, they are “harming the architecture of the DNS and undermining the goal of universal resolvability.” So the answer to this problem, according to NTIA, is to put ICANN in charge of second-level domain assignment and get them to refuse to issue any second-level domain that might be blocked by China or any other country. That, according to NTIA, will fix the DNS “harms” caused by blocking.

How do you “diminish the potential for blocking” in one country by agreeing to multiply that country's censorship to all countries? This is like saying that we can reduce the incidence of murder by shooting ourselves. True, no one will ever murder you if you shoot yourself dead. But you've given up everything you were trying to gain.

The NTIA's policy would not even succeed on its own terms. Suppose that one country objects strongly to a domain, and that objection is not upheld by the GAC as whole. Won't that government go ahead and block the top level domain anyway? So either the GAC slavishly agrees to block anything a government objects to – thus completely sacrificing freedom of expression – or it still faces a risk that one or two governments, somewhere, might choose to block a top level domain.

DNS blocking does exist and will continue to exist regardless of what ICANN's new TLD program does. While this may harm the people who are denied access to information, it does not “harm the DNS.” Let anyone who disagrees spell out exactly what these harms are – other than the lack of access. And if lack of access is the only harm, globalizing and multiplying local blocking makes the harm worse, not better.

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