CFP2001: ICANN has room for improvement

The election held last year to select additional board members for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was a mess, and much needs to be done to improve the organization responsible for overseeing the Internet's domain name system.

That was the consensus of four participants who took part in a panel discussion March 14 at the 11th annual conference of Computers, Freedom and Privacy in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

ICANN is no stranger to scrutiny. Critics charged in February that the group didn't use a democratic process when it selected seven new domain names, or the suffixes like ".biz" and ".aero" that are part of Web site addresses.

The panelists here Wednesday criticized ICANN for the way it conducted its election completed in October. At that time, five new members were elected to ICANN's board of directors, one each from Africa; Asia/Australia/Pacific; Europe; Latin America/Caribbean, and North America.

"It was a waste of my time," said Barbara Simons, past president of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) and a failed candidate for board membership who sat on the panel.

"As I mounted a campaign in the nomination stage, I was particularly frustrated by the operation of the ICANN ... registration site," said Emerson Tiller, another failed candidate and a University of Texas associate professor of business, politics and the law, in a prepared statement. Tiller was supposed to participate in the panel discussion but could not due to poor weather in the Boston area.

Simons and Tiller also complained that they had to keep up with a significant number of questions board candidates were required to answer. The software that ICANN used on its site to facilitate the questioning process was unreliable and made the effort difficult, Simons said.

The panel also suggested changes that could be made to the domain name system, including the addition of different domain name suffixes. Panelist Brad Templeton, chairman of the board of public advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said a "fairly drastic step has to be taken" to alter the current face of the domain name system. For example, problems are emerging involving corporations demanding Internet addresses that have been registered by individuals just because they vaguely resemble their corporate name.

"This totally flies in the face of trademark laws," Templeton said.

An international approach will have to be used to fix the domain name landscape, said Peter Neumann, principal scientist at SRI International Computer Science Laboratory in Menlo Park, California.

"Vinton Cerf (ICANN's chairman) has said the Internet is for everyone," Neumann said. "One of the problems with ICANN is that it is not for everyone ... The challenge before us is to look for a combination of solutions. ICANN is one piece of the problem. The real challenge is finding a broader approach to Internet governance."

In addition to the panel discussion, it was announced here that Simons, Tiller and Stanford University Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig sent a letter to Cerf Wednesday criticizing ICANN for the composition of a committee established to investigate ICANN's at-large membership. The letter is critical of ICANN for not placing any at-large board members on the committee. The letter can be viewed at http://www.icannwatch.org/.

The Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference continues through March 9. Information about the conference can be viewed at http://www.cfp2001.org/.

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