Internet Governance & ICANN

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 →

Remember all the businesses, internet techies and NGOs who were screaming about an “ITU takeover of the Internet” a year ago? Where are they now? Because this time, we actually need them.

May 14 – 21 is Internet governance week in Geneva. We have declared it so because there will be three events in that week for the global community concerned with global internet governance. From 14-16 May the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) holds its World Telecommunication Policy Forum (WTPF). This year it is devoted to internet policy issues. With the polarizing results of the Dubai World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) still reverberating, the meeting will revisit debates about the role of states in Internet governance. Next, on May 17 and 18, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and the Global Internet Governance Academic Network (GigaNet) will hold an international workshop on The Global Governance of the Internet: Intergovernmentalism, Multi-stakeholderism and Networks. Here, academics and practitioners will engage in what should be a more intellectually substantive debate on modes and principles of global Internet governance.

Last but not least, the UN Internet Governance Forum will hold its semi-annual consultations to prepare the program and agenda for its next meeting in Bali, Indonesia. The IGF consultations are relevant because, to put it bluntly, it is the failure of the IGF to bring governments, the private sector and civil society together in a commonly agreed platform for policy development that is partly responsible for the continued tension between multistakeholder and intergovernmental institutions. Whether the IGF can get its act together and become more relevant is one of the key issues going forward.

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On Wednesday, April 10, a bill “to Affirm the Policy of the United States Regarding Internet Governance” was marked up in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill is an attempt to put a formal policy statement into statute law. The effective part says simply:

It is the policy of the United States to promote a global Internet free from government control and to preserve and advance the successful multistakeholder model that governs the Internet.

Yet this attempt to formulate a clear principle and make it legally binding policy has become controversial. This has happened because the bill brings to a head the latent contradictions and elisions that characterize U.S. international Internet policy. In the process it has driven a wedge between what was once a unified front by U.S. Democrats and Republicans against incursions into Internet governance by intergovernmental organizations such as the ITU.

The problem, it seems, is that the Democratic side of the aisle can’t bring itself to say that it is against ‘government control’ per se. Indeed, the bill has forced people linked to the Obama administration to come out and openly admit that ‘government control’ of the internet is OK when we exercise it; it’s just those other countries and international organizations that we need to worry about.

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Last year, in advance of the World Conference on International Telecommunication, Congress passed a concurrent resolution stating its sense that US officials should promote and articulate the clear and unequivocal “policy of the United States to promote a global Internet free from government control and preserve and advance the successful multistakeholder model that governs the Internet today.” This language sailed through the House on a bipartisan basis with broad support from basically everyone in US civil society.

Now that WCIT is over, and the World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum looms, Congress is considering a law that reads:

It is the policy of the United States to promote a global Internet free from government control and to preserve and advance the successful multistakeholder model that governs the Internet.

And suddenly it’s controversial. Democrats are concerned that language about freedom “from government control” would apply to—gasp—the US government.

As Rep. Walden says,

Last Congress, we “talked the talk” and passed a resolution defending a global Internet free from government control. This Congress we must “walk the walk” and make it official U.S. policy. If this is a principle we truly believe in, there is no downside to stating so plainly in U.S. law.

I could not agree more.

I am especially disappointed by our friends at CDT. They are coming out against the bill, with both blog post and letter barrels blazing, after having supported the exact same language last year. Apparently, in CDT’s world: US government regulation of the Internet good, foreign government regulation of the Internet bad.

This episode shows the prescience of my colleagues Jerry Brito and Adam Thierer. As they wrote last year when Congress was considering the joint resolution:

The most serious threat to Internet freedom is not the hypothetical specter of United Nations control, but the very real creeping cyber-statism at work in the legislatures of the United States and other nations.

CDT gets this exactly backwards. Here’s hoping they change their minds yet again.

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public.

— Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

As we approach the World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum, the debate over whether intergovernmental organizations like the International Telecommunication Union should have a role to play in Internet governance continues. One argument in favor of intergovernmentalism, advanced, for instance, by former ITU Counsellor Richard Hill (now operating his own ITU lobbying organization, delightfully named APIG), goes as follows:

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ARIN is the Internet numbers registry for the North American region. It likes to present itself as a paragon of multistakeholder governance and a staunch opponent of the International Telecommunication Union’s encroachments into Internet governance. Surely, if anyone wants to keep the ITU out of Internet addressing and routing policy, it would be ARIN. And conversely, in past years the ITU has sought to carve away some of the authority over IP addressing from ARIN and other RIRs.

But wait, what is this? March 15 the ITU Secretary-General released a preparatory report for the ITU’s World Telecommunications Policy Forum, which will take place in Geneva May 14-16. The report contains 6 Internet-related policy resolutions “to provide a basis for discussion …focusing on key issues on which it would be desirable to reach conclusions.” Draft Opinion #3 pertains to Internet addressing. Among other things, the draft resolves:

  • “that needs-based address allocation should continue to underpin IP address allocation, irrespective of whether they are IPv6 or IPv4, and in the case of IPv4, irrespective of whether they are legacy or allocated address space;
  • “that all IPv4 transactions be reported to the relevant RIRs, including transactions of legacy addresses that are not necessarily subject to the policies of the RIRs regarding transfers, as supported by the policies developed by the RIR communities;”
  • “that policies of inter-RIR transfer across all RIRs should ensure that such transfers are needs based and be common to all RIRs irrespective of the address space concerned.”

These policy positions thrust the ITU and its intergovernmental machinery directly into the realm of IP addressing policy. But that is quite predictable; the ITU has always wanted to do that. What is unusual about these resolutions is that they bear an uncanny resemblance to the policy positions currently advocated by ARIN and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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There are hundreds of applications for generic words in ICANN’s new top level domain program. They include .BOOK, .MUSIC, .CLOUD, .ACCOUNTANT, .ARAB and .ART. Some of the applicants for these domains have chosen to make direct use of the name space under the TLD for their own sites rather than offering them for broad general use. Amazon, for example, would probably make .BOOK an extension of its online bookstore rather than part of a large-scale domain name registration business; Google would probably make .CLOUD an extension of its own cloud computing enterprises.

This is really no different from Barnes and Noble registering BOOK.COM and using it only for its bookstore, Scripps registering FOOD.COM and controlling the content of the site, or CNET registering NEWS.COM and making exclusive use of the site for its own news and advertising. Nor is it terribly different from the .MUSEUM top level domain.

Yet these proposals have generated a loud chorus of objections from competing businesses. They have dubbed these applications ‘closed generics’ and shouted so loud that ICANN is once again considering changing its policies in mid-implementation. ICANN staff has called for public comment and asked specifically whether it should change its rules to determine what is a ‘generic term’ and whether ICANN should enlarge even further its role as as a top-down regulator and dictate whether certain business models can be associated with certain domain names.

A group of Noncommercial Stakeholders Group (NCSG) members have weighed in with some badly-needed disinterested public comment. It isn’t about ‘open’ or ‘closed,’ they maintain, it is about the freedom to innovate.

As NCSG stakeholders, our position is driven neither by paying clients nor by an interest in the success of specific applications. It is based on a principled commitment to the ‘permissionless innovation’ that has made the Internet a source of creativity and growth. Our aim is to maximize the options available to DNS users and to minimize top-down controls. We support the freedom of individuals and organizations to register domains and use them legally in any way they see fit. We support experimentation with new ideas about what a TLD can do. We see no reason to impose ex ante restrictions on specific business models or methods of managing the name space under a TLD.

The group warns ICANN of the danger of giving itself the power to decide what qualifies as a ‘generic word’ and rejects any attempt to retroactively create new policies that would dictate business models for TLD applicants. Hopefully ICANN’s board will be able to look past the self-interested cries of businesses that want to eliminate competitors and consider the public interest in Internet freedom. The comments and list of supporters are available at this link.