With the ICANN meeting in Costa Rica only a week away, it’s a good moment to conduct a survey of what’s happening in our multistakeholder Internet governance institutions – you know, the ones that are there to preserve internet freedom and prevent a UN takeover.
The IGF front looks rather lame. The UN still hasn’t appointed anyone to replace Markus Kummer, its former executive director. The UN folks who are supposed to rotate membership on the “Multistakeholder Advisory Group” (MAG) still haven’t done so. Indeed, the IGF held its open consultations two weeks ago without knowing who the new MAG members would be. Because civil society representatives had no idea who would be on the new MAG, or whether the new MAG would be appointed before or after the consultation, very few of them could attend. So in effect, the whole purpose of the meeting – to plan for the next IGF meeting – was undermined by the fact that no one knew who would be in charge.
With weak leadership, the IGF limps along, and the big business interests (ICC-BASIS) who dominate the lame-duck MAG are trying their hardest to keep the IGF free of any substantive dialogue. During the February consultations they fought hard to keep the MAG meetings secret and to empower the lame-duck MAG to take control of the working groups that will plan the program in the next annual meeting in Azerbaijan. So while the business and US governmental interests run around warning the world that governments are out to take control of the Internet, an attempt by civil society and technical community participants to make topics such as filtering and human rights a theme of the next IGF were shot down – not by those dictatorships but by the UK government, the European Commission and the International Chamber of Commerce, who (as usual) prefer to deflect all discussion to anodyne, non-policy topics such as “development” and “sustainability.” Motherhood and apple pie topics like “green IT” become substitute for real policy dialogue.
ICANN doesn’t look a lot better. We thought that the big standoff over new top level domains was pretty much over. But the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) and the trademark and law enforcement interests who drive their agenda are still attempting to rewrite basic policies that were supposed to have been settled as companies apply for new TLDs. Most notably, the International Olympic Committee and Red Cross have gone through the GAC to demand special reservations of names. The greed of the IOC is particularly notable: they are grabbing for exclusive ownership of the word in all languages and refusing to even allow that the thousands of organizations that make use of the word “Olympic” have any legitimate claim – even the Greek village of Olympus from which the term is derived. This is being foisted on the new TLD program not because it is legal, or right, but because the GAC – a collection of governments – wants it to do so. So you see how ICANN saves us from a takeover of the Internet by repressive and authoritarian government policies.
In the meantime, government law enforcement agencies have imposed yet another top-down demand on ICANN’s supposedly bottom up, consensus-based policy making process. In the area of Whois/privacy and the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, registrars are being bullied into conducting identity checks on domain name registrants and the use of identity-shielding registration services is under attack. This is due primarily to a cranky demand from a cranky and “outraged” US Governmental Advisory Committee member, who was following the instructions of the FBI and NSA. These policies will be changed not through the bottom up policy process but through private negotiations between LEAs and registrars. As usual, the only resistance to these policies comes from the Noncommercial Users Constitutency, which is the only part of ICANN that doesn’t count when one is assessing whether “consensus” exists. ICANN’s staff, which knows that the US government and the trademark interests can make a lot of noise in Washington and possibly even deny it the IANA contact, are all too happy to deliver what the USG and the trademark and LEA interests wants by manufacturing “implementation teams” that can change policy outside of the normal policy process. Gosh, it’s good that the Internet is free of those big governments.