Internet Governance & ICANN

Day 1 of the Internet Governance Forum is in the books, and everyone is talking about what will happen on Day 2. Brazil recently announced that it will host a meeting on Internet governance in April. Tomorrow, ICANN is hosting a meeting at 1pm to explain how the April meeting will work.

Everyone that I’ve talked to in the hallways has brought up the meeting in April. No one is quite sure what to expect.

On one hand, Brazil has been part of the coalition that is pushing to do more Internet governance at the ITU. On the other hand, ICANN seems to be a willing participant in Brazil’s scheme. The recent “Montevideo Statement,” issued by various Internet organizations, called for globalizing the IANA function, which means at a minimum removing the US’s special role of maintaining the domain name system’s root zone file.

ICANN wants independence from the US government, and Brazil wants ICANN to be independent from the US government (and possibly dependent on the ITU), so this makes them allies for now.

Bizarrely, NSA surveillance continues to be cited as a reason for Brazil’s actions, although of course the IANA function has nothing to do with surveillance. The IANA issue is mostly about status. Other governments seem to feel slighted by the US’s control of the root zone file.

In any case, tomorrow we may know slightly more about ICANN and Brazil’s schemes.

Last month, I wrote at The Guardian that NSA surveillance is harming our Internet freedom efforts. Now we have tangible evidence of that. Speaking at the UN Human Rights Council on behalf of Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Ecuador, Russia, Indonesia, Bolivia, Iran, and China, Pakistan delivered the following statement (video, starts around 52:25). Pay special attention to the last two paragraphs: Continue reading →

Over on Forbes today, I have a very long post inspired by Monday’s oral arguments in Verizon’s challenge of the FCC’s Open Internet rules, passed in 2010

I say “inspired” because the post has nothing to say about the oral arguments which, in any case, I did not attend.  Mainstream journalists can’t resist the temptation to try to read into the questions asked or the mood of the judges some indication of how the decision will come out

But as anyone who has ever worked in a court or followed appellate practice  well knows, the tone of oral arguments signals nothing about a judge’s point-of-view.  Often, the harshest questioning is reserved for the side a judge is leaning towards supporting, perhaps because the briefs filed were inadequate.  Bad briefs create more work for the judge and her clerks.

I use the occasion of the hearing to take a fresh look at the net neutrality “debate,” which has been on-going since at least 2005, when I first started paying attention to it.  In particular, I try to disentangle the political term “net neutrality” (undefined and, indeed, not even used in the 2010 Open Internet order) from the engineering principles of packet routing. Continue reading →

Electronic Silk Road book coverAs I’ve noted before, I didn’t start my professional life in the early 1990s as a tech policy wonk. My real passion 20 years ago was free trade policy. Unfortunately for me, as my boss rudely informed me at the time, the world was already brimming with aspiring trade analysts and probably didn’t need another. This was the time of NAFTA and WTO negotiations and seemingly everybody was lining up to get into the world of trade policy during that period.

And so, while I was finishing a master’s degree with trade theory applications and patiently hoping for opportunities to open up, I decided to take what I thought was going to be a brief detour into the strange new world of the Internet and information technology policy. Of course, I never looked backed. I was hooked on Net policy from Day 1.  But I never stopped caring about trade theory and I have always remained passionate about the essential role that free trade plays in expanding commerce, improving human welfare, and facilitating more peaceful interactions among the diverse cultures and countries of this planet.

I only tell you this part of my own backstory so that you understand why I was so excited to receive a copy of Anupam Chander’s new book, The Electronic Silk Road: How the Web Binds the World Together in Commerce. Chander’s book weaves together trade theory and modern information technology policy issues. His over-arching goal is to sketch out and defend “a middle ground between isolation and unregulated trade, embracing free trade and also its regulation.” (p. 209) Continue reading →

On Sunday, the New York Times ran a story by Natasha Singer on the ongoing generic top-level domain (gTLD) expansion. Singer correctly notes that there is a great deal of skepticism that the new gTLDs will add social value. After all, what is the social value of .book when there is already .book.com?

Singer also raises cultural, expression, and competition concerns:

There’s a larger issue at stake, however. Advocates of Internet freedom contend that such an expanded address system effectively places online control over powerful commercial and cultural interests in the hands of individual companies, challenging the very idea of an open Internet. Existing generic domains, like .net and .com, overseen by Verisign Inc., a domain registry, have an open-use policy; that means consumers can buy domain names ending in .com directly from retail registrars like GoDaddy. With a new crop of applicants, however, Icann initially accepted proposals for closed or restricted generic domains, a practice that could limit competing views and businesses.

It’s true that there is concern over “closed generics,” but I think there is a deeper problem than anti-competitiveness that could emerge from TLD expansion. Continue reading →

ICANN is meeting in Durban, South Africa this week, and this morning, its Governmental Advisory Committee, which goes by the delightfully onomatopoetic acronym GAC, announced its official objection to the .amazon top-level domain name, which was set to go to Amazon, the online purveyor of books and everything else. Domain Incite reports:

The objection came at the behest of Brazil and other Latin American countries that claim rights to Amazon as a geographic term, and follows failed attempts by Amazon to reach agreement.

Brazil was able to achieve consensus in the GAC because the United States, which refused to agree to the objection three months ago in Beijing, had decided to keep mum this time around.

The objection will be forwarded to the ICANN board in the GAC’s Durban communique later in the week, after which the board will have a presumption that the .amazon application should be rejected.

The board could overrule the GAC, but it seems unlikely.

This is a loss for anything resembling rule of law on the Internet. There are rules for applying for new generic TLDs, and the rules specifically say which geographic terms are protected. Basically, anything on this list, known as ISO 3166-1 is verboten. But “Amazon” is not on that list, nor is “Patagonia;” .patagonia was recently withdrawn. Amazon and Patagonia followed the rules and won their respective gTLDs fair and square.

The US’s decision to appease other countries by remaining silent is a mistake. The idea of diplomacy is to get countries to like you so that you can get what you want on policy, not to give up what is right on policy so that other countries will like you. I agree with Milton Mueller, whose bottom line is:

What is at stake here is far more important than the interests of Amazon, Inc. and Patagonia, Inc. What’s really at stake is whether the Internet is free of pointless constraints and petty political objections; whether governments can abuse the ICANN process to create rights and powers for themselves without any international legislative process subject to democratic and judicial checks and balances; whether the alternative governance model that ICANN was supposed to represent is real; whether domain name policy is made through an open, bottom-up consensus or top-down by states; whether the use of words or names on the Internet is subject to arbitrary objections from politicians globalizing their local prejudices.

Black Code coverRonald J. Deibert is the director of The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and the author of an important new book, Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace, an in-depth look at the growing insecurity of the Internet. Specifically, Deibert’s book is a meticulous examination of the “malicious threats that are growing from the inside out” and which “threaten to destroy the fragile ecosystem we have come to take for granted.” (p. 14) It is also a remarkably timely book in light of the recent revelations about NSA surveillance and how it is being facilitated with the assistance of various tech and telecom giants.

The clear and colloquial tone that Deibert employs in the text helps make arcane Internet security issues interesting and accessible. Indeed, some chapters of the book almost feel like they were pulled from the pages of techno-thriller, complete with villainous characters, unexpected plot twists, and shocking conclusions. “Cyber crime has become one of the world’s largest growth businesses,” Deibert notes (p. 144) and his chapters focus on many prominent recent examples, including cyber-crime syndicates like Koobface, government cyber-spying schemes like GhostNet, state-sanctioned sabotage like Stuxnet, and the vexing issue of zero-day exploit sales.

Deibert is uniquely qualified to narrate this tale not just because he is a gifted story-teller but also because he has had a front row seat in the unfolding play that we might refer to as “How Cyberspace Grew Less Secure.” Continue reading →

The New York Times reports:

The Russians, who with only minimal success, had for years sought to make these companies provide law enforcement access to data within Russia, reacted angrily. Mr. Gattarov formed an ad hoc committee in response to Mr. Snowden’s leaks.

Ostensibly with the goal of safeguarding Russian citizens’ private lives and letters from spying, the committee revived a long-simmering Russian initiative to transfer control of Internet technical standards and domain name assignments from two nongovernmental groups that control them today to an arm of the United Nations, the International Telecommunications [sic] Union.

It’s not immediately clear to me how moving Internet standards and DNS from IETF and ICANN to the ITU is supposed to stop the NSA from spying on Russians, so the smart read is that this is retaliation pure and simple.

Brazil’s foreign minister, Antonio Patriota, for example, a week ago endorsed the Russian proposal to transfer some control over Internet technical standards to the United Nations telecommunications agency.

While these are not major changes in policy positions, the NSA’s surveillance programs seem to be galvanizing those who want the ITU to take an active role in Internet governance. It’s time for the USA to practice what it preaches on Internet freedom.

Richard Brandt, technology journalist and author, discusses his new book, One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.Com. Brandt discusses Bezos’ entrepreneurial drive, his business philosophy, and how he’s grown Amazon to become the biggest retailer in the world. This episode also covers the biggest mistake Bezos ever made, how Amazon uses patent laws to its advantage, whether Amazon will soon become a publishing house, Bezos’ idea for privately-funded space exploration and his plan to revolutionize technology with quantum computing.

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Next week, I’ll be in Geneva for the 2013 World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum, better known by the acronym WTPF-13. This is the first major ITU conference since the WCIT in December, and the first real test of whether what some are calling the “post-WCIT era” really exists, and if so, what it means. For those just now tuning in, the WCIT was a treaty conference in Dubai in which some ITU member states pushed hard to make elements of the Internet subject to intergovernmental agreement, resulting in the refusal of 55 countries to sign the treaty. I published a retrospective account of my experience at the WCIT at Ars Technica.

The WTPF will be different than the WCIT in several important ways: Continue reading →