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Looking Forward to ‘The Conversation We Should Be Having’

No, this topic hasn’t yet been exhausted: There’s still plenty more conversation we can and should have about the proposed sale of the .ORG registry operator to a private firm. Ideally, that conversation will add more information and more clarity about the issues at stake and the facts that underpin those issues.

That’s why I’m planning to attend today’s event at American University where the sale’s proponents, opponents and undecideds will have a tremendous opportunity to better understand one another. The event title says it all: “The Controversial Sale of the .ORG Registry: The Conversation We Should Be Having.

Andrew Sullivan, president and CEO of the Internet Society, will be joined on stage by representatives from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Washington College of Law, as well as both the former chair and former director of policy at Public Interest Registry. My plan is to be a spectator, but I hope my presence underscores my conviction, even in the face of sharp criticism, that this sale is the right way to #SaveDotOrg. (This isn’t exactly a spoiler, given my earlier op-ed: I believe the move is good for .ORG, good for the Internet Society, and good for people who use, or hope to use, the Internet.)

I know the hosts want to foster an objective, evenhanded discussion. All I hope for is a balanced dialogue. The Internet Society’s goal is to answer, as candidly as possible, any and all questions around the decision, which was endorsed by myself and other board members unanimously after extensive, wide-ranging discussion and due diligence.

To be clear, ISOC board members remain confident in the wisdom and integrity of our decision, just as our strongest critics continue to press the objections and doubts. But it’s heartening that everyone is still open to conversation. In my mind, the conversation we should be having would cover:

  • How the pending transaction aims to protect, preserve, and empower the Public Interest Registry and to maintain and build on the .ORG community rather than stick with the status quo.
  • How appeals to emotion have eclipsed measured analysis of facts, e.g., here, here and here.
  • How .ORG will get stronger at a time when most of the original TLDs have been on the decline.
  • How the Internet Society, a dot-org itself, will now be able to work more independently on the Internet’s biggest threats, including efforts to censor freedom of expression and undermine digital security.

Perhaps the most important fact is this: There are real threats to the Internet right now that plainly dwarf even the most outlandish vision of mercenary administration of .ORG. Take these, for example:

  • Governments around the world want backdoors to encrypted devices and networks, a development that would eliminate Internet privacy forever.
  • Both nations and private companies are making efforts to create centralized, controlled, Internet-like islands that undermine the Internet way of networking.
  • Nearly half of the world lacks access to the Internet and the enormous economic, social and educational opportunities it provides.

I hope we get to all of these topics. Because these bigger issues constitute the more important conversation we should be having. At the end of the day, even if we don’t agree, finally, about the right decisions to make regarding .ORG and the Public Interest Registry, we absolutely will need to agree to join forces on the bigger Internet problems that are hurtling toward us in this century. I look forward to standing shoulder to shoulder with today’s critics to defend our shared Internet against tomorrow’s challenges.

See you at the event IRL or on the webcast.

By Mike Godwin, Member Board Of Trustees at Internet Society

Mike Godwin is currently serving as a member of the Internet Society Board of Trustees and as a Distinguished Senior Fellow at R Street Institute. He was the founding staff counsel of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and served from 2007 to 2010 as general counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation. Godwin is a former board member of the Student Press Law Center and the Open Source Initiative.

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