The core Internet institutions abandon the US Government

In Montevideo, Uruguay this week, the Directors of all the major Internet organizations – ICANN, the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Architecture Board, the World Wide Web Consortium, the Internet Society, all five of the regional Internet address registries – turned their back on the US government. With striking unanimity, the organizations that actually develop and administer Internet standards and resources initiated a break with 3 decades of U.S. dominance of Internet governance.

A statement released by this group called for “accelerating the globalization of ICANN and IANA functions, towards an environment in which all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on an equal footing.” That part of the statement constituted an explicit rejection of the US Commerce Department’s unilateral oversight of ICANN through the IANA contract. It also indirectly attacks the US unilateral approach to the Affirmation of Commitments, the pact between the US and ICANN which provides for periodic reviews of its activities by the GAC and other members of the ICANN community. (The Affirmation was conceived as an agreement between ICANN and the US exclusively – it would not have been difficult to allow other states to sign on as well.)

Underscoring the global significance and the determination of the group to have a global impact, the Montevideo statement was released in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Russian and Chinese. In conversations with some of the participants of the Montevideo meeting, it became clear that they were thinking of new forms of multistakeholder oversight as a substitute for US oversight, although no detailed blueprint exists.

But that was only the beginning. A day after the Montevideo declaration, the President and CEO of ICANN, Fadi Chehadi – the man vetted by the US government to lead its keystone Internet governance institution – met with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. And at this meeting, Chehade engaged in some audacious private Internet diplomacy. He asked “the president [of Brazil] to elevate her leadership to a new level, to ensure that we can all get together around a new model of governance in which all are equal.” A press release from the Brazilian government said that President Rousseff wanted the event to be held in April 2014 in Rio de Janeiro. The President of ICANN thus not only allied himself with a political figure who has been intensely critical of the US government and the NSA spying program, he conspired with her to convene a global meeting to begin forging a new system of Internet governance that would move beyond the old world of US hegemony.

Make no mistake about it: this is important. It is the latest, and one of the most significant manifestations of the fallout from the Snowden revelations about NSA spying on the global Internet. It’s one thing when the government of Brazil, a longtime antagonist regarding the US role in Internet governance, gets indignant and makes threats because of the revelations. And of course, the gloating of representatives of the International Telecommunication Union could be expected. But this is different. Brazil’s state is now allied with the spokespersons for all of the organically evolved Internet institutions, the representatives of the very “multi-stakeholder model” the US purports to defend. You know you’ve made a big mistake, a life-changing mistake, when even your own children abandon you en masse.

Here at the Internet Governance Project we take only a grim satisfaction in this latest turn of events. We have been urging the USG to end its privileged role and complete the privatization of the DNS management for nearly ten years. The proper substitute for unilateral Commerce Department oversight, we argued, was not multilateral “political oversight” but an international agreement articulating clear rules regarding what ICANN can and cannot do, an agreement that explicitly protects freedom of expression and other individual rights and liberal Internet governance principles. We have heard every argument imaginable about why this did not have to happen: no one really cared about the governance of the DNS root; there was no better alternative; the rest of the world secretly wanted the US to do this; etc., etc. A combination of arrogance, complacency and domestic political pressure prevented any action.

Had that advice been heeded, had the US sought to divest itself of its unilateral oversight on its own initiative, it could have exercised some control over the transition and advanced its cherished values of freedom and democracy. It could have ensured, for example, that an independent ICANN was subject to clear limits on its authority and to new forms of accountability, which it badly needs. Now the U.S. has lost the initiative, irretrievably. The future evolution of Internet name and number governance, at the very least, is no longer up to them.


140 comments

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  5. Techno.C@T

    Milton Mueller is RIDING in the ARIN BUS on the above trip. Did the ARIN CEO inform you about his actions? Did you have a chance to get off that bus? Has Milton Mueller TURNED HIS BACK on the US ?
    [Note: Unlike some people, Mueller can not be deported from the USA]

    Who will be FLYING on the IANA Planes to the South Pacific Resorts in two weeks ? FIJI ? Somoa ? BALI ?

    Who will remain in the USA working on the NTIA FirstNET ?

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  7. Ben

    I used to think ICANN should stay with the US because the US had proven they wouldn’t interfere and such.

    I was dead wrong. Get the internet out of any government’s reach!

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  13. Jim Mooney

    It is apparent that Obama is willing to offend any nation or organization, pursue all whistleblowers until they are dead, and give up anything, in order to defend the NSA. (And the banksters). That is sad. And I’m a Democrat.

      • Julian

        Like there’s a choice? I love how republicans conveniently forget that the patriot act, warrant less spying, etc was all pushed through by the Bush Administration.

        And until we’ve broken the two party stranglehold, we’ll remain with only the choice between failed good intentions, or outright avarice and narcissism.

        • FrogE

          Choosing the lesser of 2 evils is still evil. We could try an anarcho capitalist approach, which champions free choice and criticises coercion. Coercion is the backbone of evil and government is the monolith in societsl coercion.

        • JC

          Bush did pass the Patriot Act. But it was errily similar to the Ombnibus Act that Clinton tried to pass a few years earlier. Guess the Republicans aren’t the only ones who forget.

          That said, I totally, 100% agree that our biggest problem is that we’re locked into a 2 party system. That’s why every issue polorizes the country. Everything has to be for or against with no middle ground.

          • Handal Morofsky

            I believe it’s not about republicans or democrats. or even the 2-party system. I believe it is a top/down issue. (or you could say a progressive/libertarian) issue. Progressives believe they (governments) know best. The bottom line is, it is up to the people to take the responsibility to manage things themselves. This is an added responsibility, but the cost of freedom is responsibility. If we the people don’t do it, the government will eventually step in and do it, and then slowly but surely, powers will seek more and more powers.

        • reposter.net

          And until we’ve broken the two party stranglehold, we’ll remain with only the choice between failed good intentions, or outright avarice and narcissism.

          I believe it’s been agreed that the choice is between a giant douche and a turd sandwich. Duh!

    • Nargg

      …as if a Republican would not have done the 100% same exact thing. Did you also know “gullible” is not in the dictionary??

      • Seth

        You shouldn’t assume that Paul is a Republican. Maybe he’s an Independent. Better yet he could be a Libertarian. Better still an anarchist.

        • Michael

          Which is doubtlessly why he votes lockstep with the rest of the Republicans. You keep floating in your Paul cloud, friend.

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  17. Disco

    Doesn’t matter Democrat or Rep. Both are no good. How about listening to common sense? Right is right, wrong is wrong. Divide and conquer is what the gov’t has done to its people.

    • p1z4T

      GREAT POST. Who cares who you elect it’s about making sound choices for the people you were elected to represent, period.

    • Nargg

      You seem to forget it’s the people’s fault. This is a government of the people. Last major election to Congress we all elected pissed off hardliners, and now we get what we paid for…

        • Richard

          It was, or the idea was for it to be. The founders had real reservations as to whether we could keep it so for very long though. I don’t think that being critical of others who express the desire for it to be so, is a good idea though.

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  20. Tracy Roberts

    When you guys in the US all realise that all but 2 of the Presidents are all cousins, and cousins to the Queen of England you will eventually get that it is a rigged game. The US social security scheme is owned by the Queen, not the British government, her majesty herself. As I said, a rigged game

  21. Terrence Koeman

    And what will change exacty? We get more parties that can create tlds?

    Surely the US still claims ownership over .com .net .org and .edu, and will still own 30% to 40% of the IPv4 space.

    Also, I don’t see any impact on the NSA spying if ICANN and IANA are no longer under US control. The NSA taps directly the fibers around the country at US backbones that are obligated to comply. How is that going to change?

    Fine, you say it is important. So please elaborate how this will affect different kinds of people and organizations and in what way. Now it reads like a ‘I told you so!’ piece, with a lot of ‘It’s BIG!’, without actually informing us about anthing but that a change is afoot.

    Personally (and I have dealth with a lot of RIRs and Registries) I really wouldn’t like a UN-style governing body with their board and meetings and non-binding resolutions, with the VS (and perhaps some others) with veto rights to boot. Either nothing will ever get done anymore or they will fuck up the internet.

    The US invested lots of money in the internet, I don’t see a problem with them holding on onto some control of it.

    If Brazil wants to have a say over the internet, how about they take the internet seriously first and clean up their part of the internet? It is freaking impossible to get any help with cybercrime there (seemingly no laws on tje subject there) and their universities are so poorly secured that half of them participate in denial of service attacks, or are otherwise compromised.

    Yes, sure, let them get their hands on the rest of the internet, that’ll work out just fine. Not even mentioning China.

    A shared system will end up being a compromise all around, and seeing as what countries are dying to meddle in it globally it probably won’t end up a positive change for the west.

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  37. Catherine Fitzpatrick

    “Conspired” is exactly the word to use here.

    And these non-governmental agencies that you claim were in the pocket of the US never really were under US control but under control of factions anyway. Would that they *were* under control so they could have some hope of remaining liberal and democratic and transparent. indeed, given that the major Big IT companies are US based, like Google, it would make sense.

    But no, you anarchists had to push for the fake “multi-stakeholder” model which is utter baloney because only some holders get to stake, the rest are fictions.

    And you’ll see how this lovely third-world veneer of the lovely Brazilian president is just a cover for Russian and/or Chinese takeover. Enjoy.

    • Gabriel Dread

      I’m Brazilian and I never heard of any foreign influence over Brazilian government except from US. Can you clarify what do you mean about your claim that we have bonds with Russia and China?

      Do you know that your beloved US sponsored a Military Coup in Brazil and was co-responsible for the death and torture of thousands of innocent people during a 20 year dictatorship that ruined our country?

      You Americans think you are better that the rest of the world. You support your fascist State and want to own the whole planet, think your laws apply to us and think you deserve more and better because you have an economic system that you imposed to the rest of the world.

      How can you sleep with the blood of só many millions of lives in your hands?

      • Catherine Fitzpatrick

        Have you heard of BRICS? Do you know they meet and coordinate? Have you ever been to the UN and seen how Brazil behaves, how it votes, how it backs Russia and China? Did you notice how your president just snubbed the US? Of course you have bonds with China and Russia when it comes to sticking it to the US. These don’t have to be some literal blatant collusions, but they can be seen.

        Yes, my country is beloved, and no, that doesn’t mean I endorse all its coups or help of military juntas in Latin America. But hey, a lot of those brutal coups and wars were caused by these governments reaction and over-reaction to communism. How could you and your leftist movements never understood the nature of the Soviet Union where the real millions and millions were killed, eh? What kind of disreputable left did you have there that could make common cause with those butchers? ! You made it possible for oppressive right-wing governments to have an argument. There was never any need for that. Cuba was never progressive and harmed many, many people with its alliance with Moscow and the communist ideal.

        You leftists think you’re the most pure in the world, but truly, the blood of tens of millions are on your hands because of those years when you blindly ignored the reality of the Soviet Union and blindly ignored the suffering of millions. Shame on you. How can you sleep at night?

        International human rights laws are what apply to all of us. As for economic systems, I don’t notice the enormous flow of immigrants from South America to North America ever letting up – and that’s a good thing, we’re a nation of immigrants. Meanwhile, you sulk, and you cannot seem to make that better world your socialism promises. People are right to flee it.

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  46. Len Bullard

    The interesting question is not about the US particular political parties or their roles in the events leading to these decision but if ICANN has the muscle to speak truth to the Canadian who spied on Brazil, the Russians who spy on the Chinese and the Chinese who spy on everyone? IOW, however good this makes particulars feel at this time, it is unlikely ICANN or and Internet standards group which purports to be free of political influence is given the status of volunteers who must do the heavy lifting and the finances of these institutions.

    Be careful of what you wish for. As for the US, it is past time for US interests to begin to work on taking high value information Off The Web per se and work harder on internal information systems shared securely by policy and contract. One does not leave gold in the front yard with a sign saying “Take what you need and need only what you take.”

    In shorter words: the web was designed by social morons and implemented by children. It’s time for adults to work out a better plan.

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  72. Joe

    Not that the US doesn’t deserve criticism for the NSA spying scandal, and not that the oversight of the Internet doesn’t need to become more global… but I get the feeling that the directors of the major Internet organizations all got a first-class schmoozing in Uruguay.

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  92. netdragon

    The United Nations should take over ICANN, etc, and have the same principles that the U.S. purported to defend, but apparently didn’t.

    • Richard

      Nice thought, but won’t ever happen. Look at the design of the U.N. It is a majorly failed org, full of corruption, and totally inefficient (Not that efficiency is always the most important thing!). Really, take a look at the track record of the U.N. I don’t want them governing me. They have had indirect influence here in my country, and it hasn’t often been good. There must be better ways to solve this problem. Official gov’t bodies always tend towards corruption, and the U.N. has been no different, so how would that solve any problems?

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  97. Alok

    Another eyewash from US. Excellent way to manipulate media to regain the trust..like they did earlier
    follow me on twitter @alokvijayant

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  102. collin237

    I knew from the start that there was something amiss with Snowden coming forth so easily with the leak. Now it all makes sense.

    The internet is living proof that modern physics is correct and that its Postmodern rivals are wrong. However, Postmodernists have so far successfully distracted everyone by making innuendos associating reality with the bad aspects of the USA empire. At face value, they were protesting USA overreach. But in context, they were actually letting the USA off the hook by denying the concept of truth.

    But what started as a merely philosophical obstruction is now a real danger, as Postmodernists use it to obfuscate the escalating effects of climate change.

    So how could Obama, as the leader of the USA and thus the world, stop the Postmodernists from stalling scientific inquiry about how to cope with climate change, despite the fact that Postmodernists are now in Washington doing everything they can to stop him? By sacrificing his own reputation!

    Throughout history, the torch of world empire has passed violently from one nation to another. The USA could not hold onto it forever, but how could it pass the torch on non-violently without leaving the world in the lurch? And what other nation would be worthy of picking it up.

    Obama realized that the internet, as a de facto world government, was the obvious choice. Symbolically, it’s the embodiment of reality. And practically, it’s a worldwide forum for debating solutions to the world’s problems. So he made an international show of attacking the internet. He did only enough damage to make it believable, and sent out Snowden and Greenwald with propaganda to make the world imagine the rest.

    And now, as of October, the concept of nationalizing reality has finally been defeated. Once the internet is repaired, it will be officially the hall of worldwide advancement of science. And the excuse of East vs West will never again be valid.

    The damage to internet security was meant to be repairable. If Obama had wanted it to be more than just a stunt, you’d never have found out about it.