As expected, today at 1pm there was a packed, off-the-books meeting facilitated by the “I-star” organizations (ICANN, ISOC, IETF, and a bunch of groups that don’t begin with I). The purpose of the meeting was to build support for a new Internet governance “coalition.” The argument is that because of the NSA’s global surveillance programs, the US is losing support for its perceived leadership on Internet governance. In order to avoid greater governmental or intergovernmental intrusion into the Internet, the technical community, as signaled in the Montevideo statement, must go on the offensive and create an alternative to such intrusion.
This argument is controversial, to say the least. To what extent does the “offensive” entail creating a top-down institution to deal with Internet policy issues? Neither the technical community nor civil society wants government to be in charge of the Internet, but the technical community (especially ICANN) seems much more comfortable with top-down non-governmental control. I worry that ICANN is going to become increasingly government-like. In any case, we are witnessing a small but historic rift between civil society and the technical community, which have always been on the same side in the war to keep governments off the Internet.
Even if ICANN’s argument makes a kind of sense, it may be reckless to pursue it in the proposed way. It’s now looking like there will be a don’t-call-it-a-summit in Rio in early May, hosted by the Brazilian government, to discuss these issues. Even if ICANN has good reason to believe that Brazil is negotiating in good faith, there is always the possibility that Brazil gets what it wants in the end. They are not likely to just roll over.
I’m open to the idea that we need an affirmative answer to the question of Internet policy institutions. But I’d feel a lot more comfortable if such institutions evolved bottom-up rather than emerging from a grand push, organized secretly by some members of the technical community, to create an alternative. Hopefully with the creation of the new coalition mailing list, everything can be done out in the open from here on out.