Public Comments Require Changes in ICANN new gTLD Policy

The ICANN comment period on its new gTLD policy is over. The comments reflect overwhelming opposition to the Council's attempt to impose a standard of “morality and public order” on new TLD strings. The vast majority of comments — about 60 of the 75 or so comments — criticized the policy of censoring TLD strings and asked ICANN to stick to technical and operational criteria.

IGF's MAG renewed, governments flex muscles?

Finally, the UN Secretary-General has renewed the mandate of the multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) for the Internet Governance Forum. Officially, the Advisory Group's mandate expired with the closure of the IGF's first meeting in Athens in November 2006. Since then, the Advisory Group's status has been in limbo. What looked like an understandable delay for some time – there was a changeover of leadership in the UN headquarters in early 2007 – became a problem in May this year. Following open consultations in Geneva, the Advisory Group was supposed to meet to discuss the agenda for the IGF's Rio meeting in November. Without a formal mandate, however, the AG could not hold a meeting. The official public consultation had to be extended into another two days of unofficial, half public meetings. Now, there is not only a new mandate including some concrete tasks, there is also a new position.

Timeline of the WHOIS saga

Researchers at IGP have prepared a comprehensive timeline of the Whois service and the controversy over Whois and privacy, with links to relevant documents. The timeline was prepared by Dr. Milton Mueller and doctoral student Mawaki Chango as part of their draft paper for the annual Telecommunication Policy Research Conference at the end of September. Comments or suggested additions of important missing elements to the timeline are welcomed; use the reply function on the blog

Response to Professor Zittrain

Thanks, Jonathan, for a more comprehensive statement of your position. (See JZ's reply to my August 6 post)

If I may summarize your rejoinder, you make the following points: 1) Too much time is spent on ICANN, diverting scarce time and attention from more important venues; 2) Censorship of public labels would have “near zero effect” on access to content; 3) We are guarding the wrong door, the strongest threats to freedom of expression come from private firms, such as Google or Myspace or ISPs.

I pretty much disagree with all of them, although your point number 3 raises some intriguing issues and I simply may not understand where you are going with it.

What Zittrain Doesn't Get

Dawn Nunziato has developed a strong paper on the connection between Internet governance and freedom of expression. Her law review article, published on SSRN and freely available here, argues that the Internet governance regime centered around ICANN “has failed to implement substantive norms of democratic governance, most importantly, protection for freedom of expression.” In her article, she challenges “the prevailing idea that ICANN's governance of the Internet's infrastructure does not threaten free speech.”

Efforts to alert the global community to the significance of global internet governance regimes has been undermined repeatedly by the insistence of a few well-placed intellectuals that the whole thing doesn't matter. These people, many of whom profess to be supporters of free expression, seem surprisingly cavalier about the whole problem. Witness in particular Professor Jonathan Zittrain, who wrote in reaction to the “Keep the Core Neutral Campaign:”

“I find it hard to really care if ICANN wants to allow some names and deny others. I don't see how a willingness to have some content-based process for determining new TLDs can become “a convenient lever of global control by those seeking to censor unpopular or controversial expression on the Internet.” How would this global control transpire, when one needs no particular domain name to put content up on the Net?”

I must confess that this comment astounds me. Only someone completely divorced from the realities of international politics and Internet control could make such a comment. Let us examine this comment first from the most basic, common-sense level, and then move to a more sophisticated analysis of politics and institutions.