Anything interesting about Internet governance in Wikileaks?

Not much. We searched for copyright and Internet, ICANN and cybersecurity. Almost all of the cables are unclassified but there is the odd secret or confidential memo. Mostly the documents are useful to confirm and add detail to what the US government has been doing in those sphere.

On copyright and Internet, there is a February 2010 cable in which the Economic Office laments the fact that motion picture studios lost a landmark case on intermediary responsibility in Australia. An earlier 2008 cable about the initiation of the suit notes that while it was filed by a local organization, the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT), it was done “on behalf of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and its international affiliate, the Motion Picture Association (MPA), but [AFACT] does not want that fact to be broadcasted.” When the lawsuit failed, the cable notes that “The hope for AFACT  and the big studios was that a favourable decision would have established an international precedent that could have forced ISPs to tightly police the activities of their customers.” Although we all knew that “international precedent,” and “tight policing by ISPs” were the intent of these and similar actions, its rare to see the USG admit it so openly.

On the other hand a Feb 2010 cable discussing Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's media and Internet regulation law in notes that “Provisions contained in the bill would make Internet service providers (ISPs), and hosting sites such as Blogspot and YouTube, liable for content in the same way a television station is. The writer seems concerned about the outcome, saying “if this bill were to become law as it is currently written, little would change immediately in the way Internet sites operate in Italy, and the average 11th grader uploading video to his blog would never be targeted for legal action. It would, however, provide a basis for legal actions against media operators that proved to be commercial or political competition for government figures.” The memo concludes that “Advocates of Internet freedom have repeatedly warned us that Italy's traditional elites — on both sides of the political spectrum — are very uncomfortable with the Internet's ability to bypass the traditional media that they control. Because this new bill seems to address these kinds of concerns, and because it also serves Berlusconi's business interests, it is conceivable that this seemingly improbable legislation might actually come into force in Italy.”

Reagrding ICANN, the leaked cables are from the foreign policy branches rather than the Commerce Department, so most of the juicy ICANN-related stuff is not in there. Searching for “ICANN” produces 39 documents, all but two of them unclassified. Some of the most interesting date back to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and the debate it sparked over US control of the root.

In a cable from July 6, 2005, shortly after the Bush administration released its DNS principles saying that it would never, ever let go of the root, the Tunisian Minister of Communication Technologies Montassar Ouaili confides to U.S. Ambassador Gross that it “has no problem with” US oversight and veto power over ICANN. The now-deposed Tunisian government was more concerned about whether US-Europe feuding would “damage common interests” and “needlessly create competing Internet standards.”

After WSIS, in 2006, when the European concept of “enhanced cooperation” still had some viability, there are mildly interesting memos regarding meetings between the US and European governments. The USG made the rounds trying to get Europeans  to comment on the 2006 renewal of the ICANN MoU (without much success). In discussions with the Government of Austria, Christian Singer explained why they supported the European WSIS proposal to create a stronger role for governments and a more multilateral approach to political oversight of ICANN. One reason for concern, he said, came when the network provider KPN Qwest went bankrupt in 2002: “there was an imminent danger of the shutdown of the Domain Name System (DNS) server.” “The Austrian registration authority (nic.at) had major discussions with ICANN on data protection issues before being able to receive the go-ahead for the required changing of the root-zone file.” Around the same time, the Dutch govt said that while it agrees with increased private sector management, the MOU should “evolve from the responsibility of one government to the responsibility of all governments on an equal footing.” The Norwegian Government stated that “the GAC is currently not structured nor mandated to take the role of an accountable body in matters concerning public policy issues” (an unusually sensible comment from a government). But “in the longer term, and as a response to the Internet being vital to every country and a global public good, [Norway] would like to see an evolution towards internationalization of this relationship between ICANN and government.”

Europe's position on the US role seemed to become more frayed as time went on. When Information Society Commmissioner Vivane Reding issued her famous press release in 2009 calling for separating ICANN from the US Commerce Department, and for the G-12 to exercise oversight authority, the Swedish, German and French representatives said “they perceive the Commission positions to be 'extreme', and have been at pains to distance their governments from the Commissioner,” according to the cable of August 21, 2009. 

Comments are closed.