An official “Scorecard” has been posted in advance of the Feb. 28 showdown in Brussels between the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) and the ICANN Board. The “scorecard” is intended to identify the areas where GAC differs from the positions developed by ICANN's supposedly official and open policy development process. Amusingly, the so-called GAC position follows almost verbatim the text submitted as the “US position” back in January. It's clear that the US calls the shots in GAC and other governments, including the EU, make minor modifications to U.S. initiatives. But there is one interesting change. The U.S. has been publicly shamed into backing down a bit from its initial demand for an arbitrary veto over gTLD applications.
If you've been following our coverage recently, you'll want to sign the petition telling the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) that you oppose a U.S. Commerce Department proposal to give the world’s governments arbitrary power over the Internet’s domain name system.
The proposal would give national governments the right to block the creation of new web site addresses. Proposals for new top level domains could be vetoed by the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) of ICANN “for any reason.” This means that governments could object simply because the name is controversial, or because one or two governments don’t like the applicant, or because an authoritarian government wants to suppress the kind of content that might be published under a specific top level domain name.
Our warnings against the GAC top level domain veto are getting attention. The story has been picked up by Ars Technica, CBS and CNET News and widely tweeted. An interesting new argument has surfaced in this controversy. As more and more reporters ask the U.S. government what the heck it is doing, the NTIA is issuing a stock answer. NTIA is telling reporters that its proposed veto procedure “diminishes the potential for blocking of top level domain strings considered objectionable by governments. This type of blocking harms the architecture of the DNS and undermines the goal of universal resolvability (i.e., a single global Internet that facilitates the free flow of goods and services and freedom of expression).” That's doublespeak. Let's translate it into plain English.
On Tuesday (November 30) Internet backbone provider Level3 publicly accused cable-based ISP Comcast of trying to thwart competing video services delivered through the internet. There is an important lesson to be drawn from this peering dispute about how to pursue – and not to pursue – the goals of Internet freedom associated with net neutrality.
Early yesterday the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission released its 324 page annual report to Congress. The lead story in the press has been an April 2010 BGP incident. While the underlying technical problems of BGP are well known and similar situations occur frequently, the incident is being painted ominously as a routing “hijack” that affected traffic to U.S. government websites – something which China Telecom is denying and which Renesys and Arbor Networks have done a good job of refuting. Another incident in the report, not mentioned in the press, was the March 2010 tampering of DNS responses from an i-root instance located in Beijing, which resulted in some Internet users from outside of China being blocked from reaching certain websites that are censored inside of China. Congress, which is now considering the Combatting Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act (COICA), would be well served to read how using the DNS to implement a domestic policy agenda is a bad idea.
ICANN’s staff is trying to reject key consensus recommendations regarding the censorship of new top level domains. The staff's “explanatory memo,” which tells us why it is trying to discard the decisions of a Cross-community Working Group, show a complete lack of interest in the freedom of expression implications of the new gTLD objection process. It focuses instead on how to lower legal and financial risks to the corporation. Outsourcing the decision to censor new top level domains to a “dispute resolution service provider” is considered by ICANN's staff to be a very important part of a “risk mitigation strategy.” “Without outside dispute resolution,” the staff wrote, “ICANN would have to re-evaluate risks and program costs overall.” What a startling admission! A conference call tomorrow (Monday, November 15) may be able to alter this. But the staff position fuels many of the concerns IGP and others have expressed regarding ICANN, Inc.’s status as an international institution. ICANN Inc.’s policy process looks out for its own interest as a corporation first and foremost, and lacks accountability because there is no requirement to follow the results of its own vaunted bottom-up processes.
The new gTLD process seems to have leapt over yet another hurdle. An ICANN working group has released a set of policy recommendations to guide the suppression of the top level domain strings that people find “objectionable.” The Recommendations are, remarkably, pretty good. The report can be downloaded and public comment submitted here. The new report has narrowed and tightened the standards for censoring TLD strings. The first and in some way most central recommendation is to banish the term “morality and public order” (MAPO) as the basis of objections. It will be replaced with something more grounded in international law.