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Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Mueller responds to Roberts and Sims

Responding to comments from Mike Roberts and Joe Sims posted at CircleID, Milton Mueller states:

I can’t help feeling amused by this debate. Perhaps the most amusing thing is that all sides can agree that the bogeyman of “international control” is far, far worse than what is happening now. More about that later.

Equally amusing, I find myself agreeing with Mike Roberts and Joe Sims on significant points (though not the entire package).

Mike Roberts is on target when he says, “ICANN, VeriSign and the government currently are bound to each other in an incestuous legal triangle in front of which an appearance of public-private partnership is maintained.”

Joe Sims is on target when he says that “providing what amounted to a de facto perpetual right to operate .com was giving up little or nothing, since it was unlikely as a practical matter that operation of this most important of the DNS registries was likely to be moved to different hands, and in return we obtained the ability to redelegate .org and to rebid .net.” More generally, domain name registries that succeed in building up value in their TLDs deserve to benefit from the future value of their investment in physical infrastructure and brand equity. Any other policy would erode the long-term economic sustainability of DNS.

But I’ve got to quibble with Sims about that “ability to redelegate...net”
Because we didn’t really redelegate .net, did we? And the reason is that VeriSign was able to work its lobbying magic in the U.S. Congress and play the “national security” card (which we all know is bogus, at least as far as OUR security is concerned). So public interest was sacrificed to nationalistic politics and Washington-based capture.

Will someone explain to me then what is so terrible about bringing some international political and legal forces into play here? Since it’s true that the USG, VeriSign and ICANN are locked in an unlovely embrace of interdependence and there is no domestic political impetus to get us out of that, why is the UN-based process viewed with such trepidation?

Is it because the US is a paragon of freedom and the rest of the world full of mindless authoritarians just waiting to put the brakes on the internet’s freedom? Give me a break! We have a US President who literally claims that he can make up laws justifying his actions and ignore ones he doesn’t like. We have an NSA that claims it can ask for anyone’s email regardless of whether it’s domestic or foreign and ISPs that are willing to turn it over.

And as someone who has been deeply engaged in ICANN’s policy making processes, complaining about the “slowness” of international processes is gargantuan hypocrisy - we are now in year 8 of ICANN’s existence and it doesn’t have a stable policy toward new TLD additions, it hasn’t reformed the Whois-privacy relationship after 6 years, it is just getting a ccNSO into place after 8 years, etc. etc. The days are long past when we can talk about private sector self-regulation as if it were “nimble” unless one is into making really bad jokes.

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