Eight years after its creation, ICANN is finally closing in on defining a process for adding new top level domains to the root. But the procedure it is putting into place threatens to give any individual government complete veto power over the words, concepts or symbols ICANN permits to be used as a top level domain. ICANN's policy development task force has put forward as an overriding principle the notion that "[proposed TLD] strings should not be contrary to public policy as set out in advice from the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC)."
What does "contrary to public policy" mean? ICANN's government committee has developed an answer. Its draft contains a long list of free expression-unfriendly criteria. And if there is any doubt about how to interpret those provisions, GAC claims the right to stop any application:
Section 2.13 "…If the GAC or individual GAC members express formal concerns about a specific new gTLD application, ICANN should defer from proceeding with the said application until GAC concerns have been addressed to the GAC's or the respective government's satisfaction."
This provision gives any individual government in GAC effective veto power over any TLD application. Anti-free expression governments would have the right to target any proposal they wished. Thus, for example, a new top level domain devoted to human rights in China could be vetoed using this provision, if China joined the GAC.
Robin Gross, a dissenting member of the task force developing the policy from the Noncommercial Users Constituency, said that the draft "essentially proposes that ICANN be deputized the 'word police' for the Internet."
Isn't it ironic? During the World Summit on the Information Society, US oversight of the Internet was sold to us as an alternative to a "UN Takeover of the Internet." We were told that any loosening of or internationalization of US control would put the Internet at the mercy of authoritarian countries who allegedly dominate the UN General Assembly. But now ICANN is bringing about those threatened results far more effectively than the UN, whose power is limited by the principle of national sovereignty, ever could. ICANN's complete and exclusive control over the root of Internet identifiers, on the other hand, allows its decisions to be comprehensive and globally enforced.
IGP asks you to help us defend the principle of free expression on the Internet. Write to ICANN Board members and your own government GAC representative and tell them to oppose Section 2.13 of the proposed GAC principles. The policy is still being developed and has not yet been approved by GAC or the Board. There is still time to change it.
If you are in the United States, express your opposition to the US Commerce Department, representative on ICANN's GAC, Ms. Suzanne Sene, SSene[at]ntia.doc.gov
GAC members from other countries are listed here.
You are also encouraged to communicate with ICANN's Board, which is listed here.
Board chair Vinton G. Cerf can be reached at this email address: vint[at]google.com