“War is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.” And, according to the Center for Democracy and Technology, ICANN's Joint Projects Agreement giving the US government the ability to tell ICANN what to do is a way of “protecting the DNS against governmental interference.” Hmmm…
Am I missing something? Let's go through this. CDT's goal, which it shares with this writer, is an “independent, bottom-up, fully non-governmental and globally legitimate” ICANN. So how do we get there by retaining a top-down tether to the US Commerce Department? Is the US Commerce department part of…a government? Yep, I think that would be a fairly uncontroversial conclusion. Does the JPA give it the power to “interfere” in ICANN's policy making process? Yes — the whole point of the JPA is to give the Commerce Department the power to negotiate policy priorities for ICANN and make sure that they are executed. OK, so has this tie to the U.S. been used to interfere with ICANN in arbitrary and undesirable ways? Only three little letters are needed to answer that question: “xxx.” Even CDT admits that there have been “a few very unwise lapses” in DoC's neutrality. So tell me exactly how the JPA protects the DNS against governmental interference?
CDT's answer is that we need to empower one government (which just happens to be the one in CDT's home town) because a bunch of other governments are intent upon controlling DNS, and would be even more interventionist than the US.
Obvious retort number one: the US Commerce Department lacks credibility as a bulwark of Internet liberty. Aside from its “few very unwise lapses,” it has refused for more than a decade to incorporate into the basic principles governing ICANN any reference to freedom of expression, despite repeated urgings from civil society groups that it do so.
Obvious retort number two: what about no government having unilateral control over the DNS? Indeed, what about ICANN reverting to what was supposed to be its original status as a private nonprofit that avoids the whole intertgovernmental system of governance? And wouldn't an end to the JPA be a step in that direction?
CDT doesn't think this will work because other governments would somehow conspire to take over ICANN if the great libertarian bulwark [cough] of the USG were not there to stop them. No need to mince words here: the folks in Washington are all atwitter about the governments of Russia and China, perhaps also Saudi Arabia and Iran. But there's a bit of a gap in the argument there. How are these governments supposed to gain control over ICANN? How is this takeover supposed to come about? Are Paul Twomey and Peter Dengate-Thrush a pair of crypto-Islamic fascists who are just waiting for the right moment to deliver the Internet to Riyadh? Is the People's Liberation Army going to invade Marina del Rey? (If so, we'd have a lot more to worry about than the independence of ICANN.) Is an army of Russian hackers going to bombard the A root with DDoS attacks until the Internet is brought to its knees, and then bargain to install Vladimir Putin as the oversight authority of ICANN? (If that's a plausible scenario, it could happen with or without the JPA.)
OK, so I'm having some fun with this. Let's get more realistic. Because the more realistic one gets about governmental takeover scenarios the more one realizes how the US role exacerbates them. That's right, it is hard to conceive of a single plausible scenario for governments to exert more power over ICANN that isn't either a) already happening and being aided and abetted by the USG; b) more likely to happen the longer the US stays in control or c) requires US government consent.
Stay tuned for the exciting second installment of the second round of the “UN takes over the internet” drama. It should appear some time tomorrow. I will discuss the various ways in which diabolical, plotting governments across the world could wrest control of the Internet from the pure and unsullied [cough, hack] hands of the U.S. of A. Just to whet your appetite, here is a preview:
Scenario one: The rot within (GAC).
Scenario two: A binding international convention
Scenario three: Secession and fragmentation
You are welcome to contribute your own scenarios as well. Use your imagination.