Gibbs' column: ICANN? Can they? We hope they can

The king is dead, long live the king.

-- British official proclamation made on the death of the monarch to signify the succession of ruleRecently I discussed the curiously stupid behaviour of Network Solutions, which used to run the Internet Network Information Center (InterNIC). As if we didn't have enough evidence that NSI was unsuitable to run InterNIC, sending out spam under the guise of netsol.com pretty much clinched it.

We need an effective and fair organisation to manage the Internet's naming system, and NSI isn't it. The king is dead . . .

The current contender to be the replacement authority is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, abbreviated to the catchy acronym ICann (www.icann.org).

ICann is a nonprofit organisation and is the reincarnation of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (www.iana.org), merged with the functions of InterNIC. Fundamentally, ICann will turn IANA, a US government-funded operation, into an international private organisation.

There has already been a lot of criticism about the way ICann will be run. Most notably, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) (www.eff.org) is concerned that the ICann bylaws offer "no protection for due process" (there's no way to ensure that they follow their own rules) and "no protection for open process" (the ICann board meetings will be secret).

The EFF is also concerned that there will be "no protection for free expression" (as in the First Amendment) -- one of the EFF's ongoing complaints about NSI's existing InterNIC regulations.

It seems that the ICann proposal makes almost no one happy and the group's last meeting was, in the words of faithful reader Brian Muolo, "a farce".

Muolo goes on to note: "There was plenty of time for public comment and questions -- however, that's as far as it got. The 'board' answered VERY few questions. "I did follow-up, stating if they only wanted to solicit comments and questions they could have used a Web forum and saved some very busy people the time and money it took to get to the meeting. (One Asian gentleman stated it took him 29 hours to get to the meeting -- YIKES . . . I hope he found it more enlightening than I did!)"Oh dear. It isn't looking too promising, is it?

Well, last week ICann asked the US. Commerce Department to begin transitioning DNS (domain name system) administration from NSI. ICann also claims to have changed its bylaws to address criticisms about lack of openness and accountability, although from what I can see the EFF's points still aren't addressed.

I'm not usually one for conspiracy theories but I do find myself wondering what else may be hidden. When NSI ran InterNIC there was the curious issue of its involvement with, and board representation from, the likes of the National Security Agency and the CIA. I would be very surprised if those agencies weren't deeply involved with ICann.

In reality, all of this is highly political. Despite the $10 words of the ICann board about community, responsibility and internationalism, I suspect that the US government agenda will dominate (ICann is incorporated in California) and the question is: how much will we know about their operations and how much will we, the Internet community, be involved?

The bottom line, whether we like it or not, is that it looks like ICann is going to manage the Internet.

Long live the king.

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