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(July 30, 2000 - Updated Feb 16, 2001 - see below!)
I sent this email to several of my friends & family who I thought might be concerned and interested. If this interests you you may also want to see my letter to ICANN.
Subject: become a netizen - a call to end net apathy
Date: Sun, 30 Jul 2000 00:34:24 -0700
From: dan becker <email@example.com>
Hi - Dan here with a little Internet citizenship activism. I hope you will find it worthwhile to read this if you are interested in having an influence on the development of the Internet.
[If, after reading this, you would like to pass it on, feel free to do so or refer people to this URL, where it is duplicated: http://www.fullerbecker.com/thoughts_and_words/icann.html -- but please be polite and only send to people who you think will really be interested. Don't spam! thanks...]
If you do so, you will be able to vote on board positions for the ICANN committee, which essentially rules the domain name system. They are the ones who control the creation of, among other things, new top-level domains such as .com, .org, .net, etc.
When this group was initially formed and such broad authority to control the structure of the Internet was delegated to it, part of the requirements were that half the board members be elected annually by members of the Internet community at large, who self-selected by registering at icann.org prior to elections.
As the Internet has become more commericalized, business interests who are intimately dependent upon ICANN's decisions have moved to take over control of ICANN. They are trying to amend ICANN's bylaws to require under 1/3 of the board to be publicly elected. (Which means that the publicly elected board members will not be able to prevent further modifications to ICANN's charter which require a 2/3 majority vote--this move is an attempt to strip all power from the public's representatives.)
ICANN have also begun holding board meetings behind closed doors and not publishing the proceedings. The Internet is not owned by anyone, and ICANN has been delegated its authority on behalf of ALL Internet users, and should have that as its priority, not making decisions motivated by a desire to maximize profits for a few companies.
All of this is profoundly antidemocratic and antiegalitarian. It reeks of the same old behind-the-scenes closed door smoke-filled-back-room deals that have tainted so much of our history already. Our hopes that the Internet may actually bring something new in the balance of power (restoring some to the individual) may be in danger and I fear we are going to sleep through the critical period. Resistance is NOT futile. But tacit acceptance will be fatal.
It may sound crazily idealistic, but I am sending this to you as a call, not to arms, but to vote. I don't ask for your passionate commitment; just that you please do consider avoiding apathy.
Become an Internet citizen. Spread the word about the issues. Tell others who you think should be involved in guiding the growth of the Internet to join us. If we sit back and let the corporations take control without objecting, they will do so.
But if we simply take action, and say "excuse me, that is not what I want" the world just might take notice. It happened here in Seattle at the WTO counter-demonstrations -- even though the media tried to focus only on the dramatic pictures of graffiti and tear gas, most coverage at least mentioned that tens of thousands of people, from countries all over the world, and from all across the political spectrum, demonstrated against turning over control of our world to corporate interests.
I say again: Resistance is NOT futile.
The first step is to rouse ourselves from apathy, and voice our opinions publicly.
If you see this message before 2400 GMT 07-31-2000 you can register as a public voting member of ICANN. (http://members.icann.org/join_now.html)
However, in a further display of the low priority they hold for democratic public participation, ICANN has posted the following message on their website:
"Status of ICANN's At Large Membership [...] the system is under extremely heavy load and we regret that we will not be able to accommodate everyone at this time. Registration for the October 2000 election of five At Large Directors will end at 2400 GMT on Monday, July 31, 2000."
They have established a deadline, and made it impossible to register before the deadline expires. I have been trying for for the past week to register, and I always get the message "sorry, our database is overloaded."
I have a powerful suspicion the wool is being pulled over our eyes once again; not by forces of malice, but by the attitude of the people who are running things, who don't feel like the public's inability to participate is really that much of a problem.. And until we let them know that it IS a problem, we have only ourselves to blame for letting that attitude persist. Griping over the morning coffee while reading slashdot will not fix things.
Thanks for listening,
[this message will remain posted at http://www.fullerbecker.com/thoughts_and_words/icann.html -- feel free to forward this email or the URL to anyone you think would be interested.]
See also my letter to ICANN.
For more information on the current state of ICANN, I am including for ease of reading (in case the link is unreachable) the article reproduced below, by Brian Livingston, from Infoworld magazine, which can also be found here: http://www.infoworld.com/articles/op/xml/00/07/24/000724oplivingston.xml - I also recommend Brian's other writings on the subject. His "Windows 2000 Secrets" book is also excellent...
Friday, Jul. 21, 2000 1:01 pm PT Brian Livingston
YOKOHAMA, JAPAN -- The Internet's coordinating body kicked off a new Web gold rush at its July 16 meeting here. But at the same time, it adopted new, restrictive policies that will reduce public involvement.
A timetable for new domain names beyond the existing.com, .net, and .org was approved by the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers.
But the ICANN board then set a very high, nonrefundable fee of $50,000 merely to apply to run a "registry server" for any new string. At that exorbitant price, even large universities may hesitate to propose much-needed expansions, such as.info, .home, and so on.
In a major shift of power, the board rewrote ICANN's bylaws, eliminating the requirement that nine out of 19 of its directors be elected by Internet users at large.
Now, instead of guaranteeing that nine directors will be democratically elected, the bylaws state that only five will be elected this year.
This is significant because most of ICANN's 19 interim and appointed directors are involved with for-profit Internet businesses. When the U.S. Department of Commerce contracted with ICANN in 1998, its bylaws "balanced" the directors with financial interests by promising Internet users the right to elect nine out of 19 directors soon.
Instead of honoring this commitment, the 19 currently appointed directors have voted for a study of "whether the ICANN Board should include at-large directors" at all.
Concerned Internet users from around the world testified against the bylaw changes overwhelmingly at a hearing before the board acted.
The European Commission's Christopher Wilkinson, during his testimony, objected that "The board is being extremely cavalier about these changes to the bylaws."
Barbara Simons, past president of the Association for Computing Machinery, said, "not leaving nine in the bylaws will do damage" to public support for ICANN.
In an address at the hearing, even Paul Twomey -- an Australian official who chairs ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee and is no radical -- issued a warning in remarkably blunt terms (for a diplomat).
ICANN, Twomey said, is in danger of becoming "defined by the supply side: the content owners, the trademark holders, the people who run the registries" -- in other words, becoming just another trade group whose decisions reflect its own financial interests. "The alternative is that it becomes an organization thoroughly focused on the needs of the users, an organization that serves users," Twomey said.
If it's a mere industry association, Twomey concluded, "It would need to realize that governments and consumer organizations would pay much more attention to ICANN over consumer protection and monopoly issues."
Joe Sims, ICANN's legal counsel, defended the board. During the hearing, he alluded to "the problem that the board sees with this kind of an election, in which the at-large members make up half of the board."
The appointed directors decided, Sims said, "that we will solve that problem in the long run by reducing the [elected] at-large members from one-half to less than one-third."
Reducing the publicly elected directors below one-third, of course, means they can't block future bylaw changes that require a two-thirds majority. Hey, problem solved.
Early on, ICANN created a firestorm by holding closed board meetings. It then assured U.S. officials and others that its board meetings would be open. But ICANN seems reluctant to embrace civil norms, such as requiring that its board meet only in public.
Two sources who decline to be identified confirmed that board members assembled for an unannounced dinner meeting in the Yokohama Grand Inter-Continental Hotel two nights prior to the beginning of the board's official session.
I'm sure ICANN's directors are fine people who make wonderful neighbors, but they vote their interests. Thus, they expand their power and reduce democratic participation.
ICANN didn't need to exclude innovative proposals with a $50,000 fee. To cover its staffing costs, it could have required, say, a $250,000 setup fee from the winners of the registry competition, who will make millions.
ICANN didn't need to eliminate its guarantee of nine elected directors. It could have amended its bylaws after doing the study.
Now that only five directors will be elected, it's more important than ever that they represent the interests of the vast Internet public.
Go to http://members.icann.org/join_now.htm today. To vote in the election, you must register by July 31. If ICANN's poorly scaled server doesn't respond, try again later.
Congress to examine ICANN constitutional breaches
By: Andrew Orlowski in San Francisco
Posted: 15/02/2001 at 08:35 GMT
Two of ICANN's most formidable shin kickers got their chance to testify before Congress yesterday, and further hearings into the constitutional legality of the Internet quango may result from the hearing.
Although ICANN CEO Mike Roberts for the most part triangulated his way out of trouble yesterday, the critics left their mark: further hearings into potential due process issues were suggested by Senate committee members in their summing up.
Karl Auerbach, who was elected to the ICANN board and Michael Froomkin, the University of Miami Law Professor who devised a cookbook of legal challenges to ICANN, both finally got their chance to testify.
Congress heard Froomkin's argument that ICANN violated constitution powers, and Auerbach testified that even as a formal director of the organisation, he was denied access to meetings and information.
The pair had a tough job: Senators vary wildly in their understanding of the arcana of Internet governance, and towards the very end of the two hour hearing (which you can listen to here, one Senator asked "what do you mean by 'root'"?, after the term had been used for (we guess) the fifteenth time. That's not an illustration of stupidity, but of the language canyon that ICANN's critics need to bridge in tailoring their arguments to the general public.
Inside, looking out
Auerbach made the most of the opportunity, giving Senators a whirlwind tour of ICANN shenanigans. He described the recent disappearance of the Members at Large (MAL) list of voters who'd participated in the last election. He described ICANN as a regulator that's free from scrutiny and vulnerable to capture by powerful interest groups. And he testified that his recently-acquired status as an elected director hadn't helped him find out more about what ICANN was up to.
"Even as a director I have difficulty discovering what ICANN is doing. There are parts of ICANN to which I am denied access," he said. "I learnt more from the people in my community [who scrutinise ICANN] than I do internally."
Nevertheless, he said as an ICANN director he carried the same burden and liabilities as any director. Referring to the Domain Name Support Organisation subgroup, Auerbach said: "I am responsible for its assets, debts and actions as a director - but its assets and liabilities were not on the annual statement"
"We take our openness and transparency responsibility very literally," responded ICANN CEO Mike Roberts, in the truest - literally, of course - statement of the day.
The pair had a stroke of luck with a perplexed Senator Boxer, who explained that someone had put a rogue website up in her name, and she'd discovered she couldn't do anything about it. Auerbach stepped in to point out that ICANN's resolution process, the UDRP, precisely left the individual powerless, while swinging the balance of power to trademark holders - "you can't even use the UDRP unless you've got a trademark" - and more broadly, the existing registrars.
Auerbach surely scored with his description of last year's At Large election process, beginning with the ballot stuffing which gave hand-picked ICANN reps the balance of power, through to the control over the communication media - "ICANN controlled every channel between the electors and the candidates... imagine if you could not get the names of the people on the voter roles in your state" - through to the well-documented failures of ICANN's registration and vote counting machines. "158,000 people signed up... a transaction rate of 3 or 4 every minute. I don't know of any computers that slow today."
The Empire Strikes Back
Froomkin zeroed in on the unconstitutional aspect of ICANN, summarising it as a "good government" issue. He pointed out that ICANN was a regulator with global influence, but without constitutional oversight. The .iii doman had been rejected on the hoof last year, he pointed out, "simply because someone on the board decided it was too hard to pronounce.|
"The global concern here is not just in this process ... a way in which agencies can bypass procedures to create a regulator in all but name, that uses control over a federally dominated resource to make people sign contracts with it, pay it money, and do what it says. And then not be subject to due process, not be subject to an ordinary court challenge, and not be subject to oversight. That's cutting Congress - cutting the American people - out of the regulatory process."
This wasn't the day for deeply contrarian rhetoric. Neither Auerbach nor Froomkin pointed out that the root, as such, doesn't need an ICANN at all. The world could switch to liberated root servers, and very well not notice the difference. Auerbach said he thought an ICANN was necessary, although we all know he knows that this isn't really true, and we all know he's right, too. As he pointed out, someone needs to administer the numbers, but DNS is an extra service. Froomkin proposed farming out the decision making among different countries and interest groups on a round robin basis, leaving ICANN as a shell administrator.
Which touches on the international legitimacy of ICANN. Here Froomkin thought that for now, it was best safeguarded by Americans:-
"I have to confess, and it's not politically correct to say this and my Euro friends won't like it, but with due process, first amendment rights and constitutional protection I'm more comfortable with the US government overseeing ICANN. My experience of international organisations is that they're democratic or representative."
"Ultimately in the short term [US control] it gives us the fair play guarantees we need." Well, assuming there are enough lawyers here who share Froomkin's forensic analysis of the abuses of power and citizens rights, and enough good folk in Europe prepared to trust him.
He's painfully right of course - the international institutions don't exist that allow the transparency of decision making, and judicial appeal that the US constitution provides. (Provides, note, not guarantees)
As a fluent French speaker, Froomkin also knows how well any pitch to maintain oversight over ICANN will play in say, Paris. But Europeans keen to view ICANN as another wing of the American Empire will only be encouraged by this splendid aside from Senator Boxer when the international dimension was raised:-
"We think of the United States as cutting edge. If we don't take ball and run with it I don't know what would happen!" she said.
Goodness, Senator, you're quite right - without this American know-how, the rest of the world would be plunged into a medieval darkness! ICANN really is the Great Library of Alexandria.
When we heard this we began to wish that Auerbach and Froomkin had raised the alternate root card, but yesterday that remained a dog that didn't bark.
Related Stories on the Register
J'accuse: ICANN's 'Government sponsored extortion' unconstitutional
ICANN: one in, four out, more TLD controversy
Country code chiefs, registrars mull ICANN breakaway
ICANN legal pay-off avoids scrutiny
fullerbecker.com - online since April 1999
This page posted July 30, 2000