Save the Internet from Content Regulation and U.S. Political Interference sign now

STATEMENT OPPOSING POLITICAL INTERVENTION IN THE INTERNETS CORE TECHNICAL ADMINISTRATIVE FUNCTIONS

Internet Governance Project www.internetgovernance.org
v 2.pub.4 August 23, 2005

The partners of the Internet Governance Project, along with the undersigned civil society groups and individuals, wish to express their concern over the August 11, 2005 request by the U.S. Department of Commerces National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to delay, and possibly deny, a gTLD delegation decision by ICANN's Board. The intervention by the NTIA raises important issues regarding the appropriate role of governments in the global administration of the Internet.

In 1998, governance of the domain name system (DNS) was given to a private, nonprofit corporation (ICANN). This policy was intended to keep the Internet's core coordinating functions free from national politics, geopolitical rivalries and territorial jurisdiction. Governance was globalized by delegating responsibility to the worlds technical experts, civil society organizations and the private sector while avoiding a traditional treaty-based intergovernmental organization. As a logical extension of that policy, the influence of governments in ICANN was deliberately minimized.

From the beginning, however, the special status of the United States government was inconsistent with the underlying policy. As the contracting authority for ICANN, the U.S. is in a position to strongly influence its management. It also possesses the unilateral right to approve modifications to the DNS root zone file. By insisting on retaining this unilateral oversight authority, the U.S. encouraged other states to assert equal sovereign rights to oversee Internet governance. These concerns about the U.S. governments special authority, however, were met with assurances from the U.S. and from ICANN that it would never be used to shape policy but was only a means of protecting the stability of the organization and its processes.

The NTIAs recent intervention in the .xxx proceeding undermines those assurances. It calls into question the neutrality of the U.S. governments special authority over ICANN. Whether intended or not, this intervention has the potential to become a turning point in the history of Internet governance.

Concern about the US intervention is particularly strong in this case because of the open acknowledgement in the NTIA's letter of the influence of an organized campaign by domestic religious groups devoted to content regulation of the Internet.

We are well aware that other governments had also expressed opposition to the .xxx domain. But there was no motion for a delay by ICANN or its Governmental Advisory Council until after the NTIA sent its letter. And while some of the governments opposition may have been sincerely grounded in cultural and moral concerns, we fear that others saw in the connection to explicit sexual content an opportunity to embarrass and discredit ICANN and the U.S. government.

This incident therefore underscores precisely the kind of danger that led to bipartisan support for a private-sector approach to DNS administration originally: the danger that the policies governing the Internets core coordinating functions would become destabilized, paralyzed or overly restrictive because of exposure to geopolitical conflicts among the worlds nation-states.

We acknowledge the existence of legitimate demands for revising the oversight relationship between governments and ICANN. The Internet Governance Project has been on record for some time as stating that oversight relying exclusively on the U.S. government was divisive and unsustainable. An ad hoc, last-minute intervention around .xxx, however, is not the right way to initiate constructive changes. By setting a precedent for hasty governmental intervention, the .xxx decision has the potential to set in motion ill-advised long-term changes in ICANNs oversight structure.

We believe that censorship and content regulation should be avoided whenever possible; when perceived to be necessary it should not be extended into the global management of the domain name system but remain the province of national-level policies. If there are to be any government-imposed limitations or constraints on the global name space, they should meet the most stringent procedural and substantive standards, such as:
* A well-defined process controlling when and in what form governments are permitted to intervene in the TLD addition process;
* General principles defining what criteria can be used to justify a decision to refuse to permit the addition of a particular name and (equally important) what criteria are not admissible
* Very high levels of agreement, or complete consensus, among governments before any veto could be taken.

The transmission of two brief letters to the ICANN Chief Executive three days before a Board meeting, in contrast, does not meet a standard of due process sufficient to reverse an eighteen month process involving the investment of over a million dollars by the private sector applicant.

Our general defense of the ICANN governance model does not mean that we fail to see the deep flaws in ICANNs top level domain addition processes and in its structures of representation and accountability. The new voice and power being given to national governments contrasts sharply with the powerlessness of individual domain name registrants within ICANN, who, despite being the most significant stakeholder in the system, were deprived of their right to vote for ICANN Board members in 2002.

We believe that in nearly all cases the decision to authorize new top level domains should be content-neutral. We have always urged ICANN to add many new top-level domains to respond to demand and to diminish the economic, political and cultural passions surrounding any one of them. We have also urged it to add TLDs using objective and neutral procedures, such as auctions, lotteries or other objective methods, rather than the beauty contests ICANN has relied on so far. ICANN has consistently ignored that advice, and now it is paying the price.

Our response to this development should not be taken as indicative of any of our members or supporters position on sexual content or the .xxx domain itself. We do however believe that, contrary to the unsubstantiated claims of certain groups, approval of the .xxx domain will neither increase nor decrease the amount of sexually oriented content on the Internet.

To conclude, this watershed in the evolution of Internet governance creates real dangers, but also opportunities. In reviewing its decision regarding the .xxx delegation, we urge the ICANN Board to be mindful of the future, and of the Internets legacy of freedom. Its decision must take into account the need to restrain the influence of national politics and content regulation advocacy on the Internet's operation. We urge it not to make any concessions or statements that would encourage more such interventions in the future. We urge the worlds governments to take a more deliberative and procedurally sound approach to the reform of ICANN.

Signed,

Lee McKnight, Syracuse University
Milton Mueller, Syracuse University
Hans Klein, Georgia Institute of Technology
Derrick Cogburn, Syracuse University
Braden Cox, Competitive Enterprise Institute
Deb Haas
John Mathiason, Syracuse University
William Lehr, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Mark Laythorpe
Bob Leigh
Tero Paananen
Cees Rindmarsch
Steven Heath
Karl vonWerther
Ron Hamilton
Kenneth Kron
Roy Silvernail
Doug Ireland, L.A. Weekly
Bruce Gowens
Kelly Howard
Thomas Leavitt, Godmoma's Forge, LLC
Daniel Harper
Anthony Boatright
Ken Roe, Member of ACM and IEEE
Jim McQuaid
Glenn Branch
Mohammad Ahsan, OSDUY
Glen Zorn
Thomas Lewis
Amy Reese
Richard C. Vincent, Indiana State University
Barbara Porter
Christopher Bodenlos
Ron Braithwaite, Software Engineering
Iliya Nickelt
Gregory Leffler
George Ellenburg
Jim Rutt, former CEO Network Solutions
Rik Panganiban
Phyllis Steven
Adam Williams, LoungeLightCandle.com
Gordon Chan
Hank Wehen, York University
Mark Healey, Kingston Communications (Hull) PLC
Chris Marsden
Daniel Brown
Consuela Metzger
Sylvia Caras, People Who
Danny Younger
Tom Simons
Brian Yoder, uWink, Inc.
Dan Schlitt
James Sanders, Steppingstones Designs
Eric Williams
Richard Henderson, Internet Users Advocate
Milda Hedblom, TISP Forum, U. of Minnesota
Joop Teernstra, icannatlarge.com
Ross Rader, Tucows Inc.
Eugene Radchenko, Moscow State University, Russia
Ken Stoen, PMIW
Steve Nieman, The Ownership Union
Dana Blankenhorn, a-clue.com
Harold Burstyn, Syracuse University
Robert Weber, StrategyKinetics, LLC
Elliot Noss, Tucows Inc.
Daniel Gordon
Peter Jones, Redesign Research
John Steven
Robert Berger, Internet Bandwidth Development, LLC
Mawaki Chango
James Ross
Erin Montoya
Floyd Kemske
Andrew Pam, Glass Wings
Robert Raisch, Commercial Internet Pioneer
Amanda Whitsel
Mark Knox
Tom Keller
Karl Auerbach, former ICANN Board member
Alan Krueger, Trigonic Solutions

If you would like to add your individual and/or organization's name to the letter, please sign this petition and forward it to other people that you feel would also want to sign this petition statement. Your support will help to keep the Internet free from content regulation, international government intervention and the special interest groups that impact many of their decisions.

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Rosanne WintersBy:
Transport and infrastructureIn:
Petition target:
Assistant Secretary Michael D. Gallagher, U.S. Department of Commerce, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Paul Twomey, President/CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers

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