By Nick Patience Consumer advocate Ralph Nader is calling for an overseeing body to oversee the body that is supposed to oversee the internet’s domain name system. That extra level is necessary, he says, because the Internet Corporation for Assigned Name and Numbers is in danger of – or already has been – captured by […]
By Nick Patience
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader is calling for an overseeing body to oversee the body that is supposed to oversee the internet’s domain name system. That extra level is necessary, he says, because the Internet Corporation for Assigned Name and Numbers is in danger of – or already has been – captured by commercial interests with no real say for individuals, he believes. ICANN is yet to form an individual membership and six of its seven membership constituencies that have been formed are aimed at business interests; the seventh is for non-commercial domain name holders.
Working on the theory that all corporations are given power by the federal and state governments, Nader claims that: ICANN is being delegated some awesome potential power, but it will be under pressure to make it not potential, but real. Nader believes that there needs to be an international treaty or at the very least, and act of Congress to define what ICANN can and cannot do, because at present, he says, the only redress that will be available in the long term is to appeal to the attorney general of California, which is not very convenient for those outside the US. Nader said that there needs to be a new form of international body and he cautioned against copying the framework of the ITU or WIPO.
Nader made some initial proposals for a suitable framework for ICANN to work within at meeting convened by Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR) over the weekend in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington DC. Nader’s Consumer Project on Technology (CPT) organization believes that ICANN’s remit should be restricted to the management of mapping IP addresses to domain name and should not extend to deciding who can or cannot have domain names because of their possible conflict with trademarks. He says an individual membership should be put in place and a board of directors voted in before any other policy decisions are made and that it should open all of its meetings to the public, including the meetings that occur between the quarterly public meetings. He also says that a domain name holder’s right to parody criticism and free speech should be protected by the charter that sets up the body to oversee ICANN, noting that GM-sucks.com should be permitted. [It’s] one of my favorites, joked Nader.
Responding to some at the meeting who suggested that an international internet governance body populated by politicians is exactly what ICANN was set up to avoid, Nader said there’s always a form of governance, whether we like it or not. He added, you are not going to escape governance while there are multinational corporations and your are not while there are tyrannical governments.
Nader said it is very important the structure of ICANN is right – as he sees it – before the US government cedes complete control of the DNS, which it is currently set to do in one year’s time. That’s because the scope of ICANN is defined by only the loosest set of boundaries, according to Nader, although ICANN interim chair Esther Dyson disagreed with this fundamental point on a later panel. When functions are given no boundaries, the powers that be tend to expand them to suit the powers that be, Nader said. The powers that be in this case are the major telecommunications, computer and internet companies that are taking a strong interest in the workings of ICANN.
Nader acknowledged that Dyson does more than any of the other nine interim board members to interact with the internet community. However he warned that Dyson is not ICANN and that she will have left the board within one year, which is why the structure needs to be right well before then. Dyson said later that Nader’s remarks echoed later by the CPT’s Jamie Love made a whole lot of sense, adding that most of it is in our bylaws to one extent or another. She said that ICANN’s goal is to keep itself very limited.
Along with ICANN, Nader also had harsh words for Network Solutions Inc and the Department of Commerce, which in theory, holds sway over both of them at the moment. Nader says there will be more formidable opposition to another extension of NSI’s contract to operate the registry for .com .net and .org, which is id due to expire on September 30 2000, having been extended for two years last October. He also says that there should be a judicial or legislative decision made to show that NSI doesn’t own the contents of the whois database, which NSI claims it does because it has spent six years building it up and maintaining it. That’s just a claim, says Nader. He said that by getting the registry and registrar contract from the US government, NSI had been given one of the great windfalls in history. Nader said the Department of Commerce role in all this represents a remarkable delegation of authority, but part of a trend which includes privatized jails and fire departments.
It’s a fair test of an issue that once Ralph Nader gets interested in it, it must have generated fairly widespread interest and concern among at least some of the American people. That status can now be afforded to the management of the domain name and numbering system, if Nader’s appearance at a meeting debating the future of the management of the DNS over the weekend is anything to go by. Nader first got involved in the DNS battles in June when the CPT wrote a letter to the interim chair of ICANN, Esther Dyson, who reacted strongly to it, placing the blame for a lot of the problems that now exist at the door of NSI. Nader made his name in the 1960s when he exposed General Motors’ Corvair automobile as being unsafe and prone to tipping over in his book ‘Unsafe At Any Speed.’ Nader established the CPT in 1995 and last year lobbied in support of the Department of Justice’s antitrust case against Microsoft Corp. The CPT’s proposals are at http://www.cptech.org/ecom/cpsr-icann.html.