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Brownian Motion And ICANN’s Latest Status Report To The United States

Brownian motion is the ceaseless random movement of particles suspended in a warm fluid.  The particles move because they are buffeted by random collisions with molecules and atoms speeding this way and that under the impetus of heat.  The greater the heat, the greater the motion.  But no matter how much motion and how much heat, Brownian motion brings no progress.

Today I learned from Bret Fausett’s ICANN Blog that ICANN has just published its Sixth Status Report Under ICANN/US Government Memorandum of Understanding, dated March 31, 2003.  This report is subtitled “Report by ICANN to United States Department of Commerce Re: Progress Toward Objectives of Memorandum of Understanding” (emphasis added.)

Let’s take a look at that those claims of “progress”:

ICANN is an entity with many particles - the report tells us that the number of employees is now 23, not to mention its 18 non-employee Board members and umpteens of people on umpteens of “committees: and “organizations”.

And ICANN is an entity with much heat to impel those particles into rapid motion - the budget is approaching $8,000,000 per year.  And like Brownian motion, the result is a ceaseless random motion that cumulates to neither advance nor retreat, it cumulates to nothing more than zero.

This report claims that ICANN has moved much.  The report also reveals that ICANN has accomplished little.  The report is written in the prolix manner of a student who is required to turn in ten pages of writing but who only has one page to say.

Certainly there is some progress - ICANN has finally created a long overdue body to examine privacy.  And ICANN has adopted a “redemption grace” mechanism for those who fail to make timely renewals of domain names.  ICANN did make a good start by forming a committee on corporate governance, but the follow-through appears to be aimed squarely at creating a rubber stamp for the status quo.

Much of ICANN’s report is filled with what amounts to self-congratulation about establishing bodies created through ICANN’s “reform” effort.  I consider ICANN’s so-called “reform” to be a retrograde change that does nothing to advance the public interest.  Instead I find that this “reform” more deeply entrenches ICANN as a body regulating social, business, and economic (but not technical) policies that has been captured by those it purports to regulate.  So to my mind, creation of a bewildering number of “committees” and “organizations” is nothing more than empire building that has value only in the eyes of the professional bureaucrat.

Many of ICANN’s claims of progress are questionable.  For example, the highly critical matter of DNS security is covered in the report with a reference to two documents.  The first is a document that is well written and accurate but that covers a topic well known and long-discussed in the internet technical community.  In other words, it offers nothing more than a Readers Digest version of a much larger and richer body of already existing material.

The second mentioned document is the Whois Recommendation of the Security and Stability Advisory Committee.  It is well considered and well argued (even though I disagree with many of its conclusions) by well informed and thoughtful people.  This report is indeed “progress”, but unfortunately it bears the burden of being the sole demonstrable “progress” made by ICANN’s vaunted security committee despite its 18 months of existence.

ICANN is claiming that it is ‘monitoring of deployment of “anycast”’.  I find that claim to be quite misleading.  ICANN was, at best, an after-the-fact observer of a fait accompli.  This technical deployment, something that I welcome, does have risks, risks of a scope and scale that are much greater than the risk caused by the deployment of new TLDs.  Yet the conception, design, and deployment was done in spite of ICANN, and not by ICANN (or IANA.)  I applaud the engineering and innovation of the root server operators.  I reject the claim that ICANN’s involvement was more than passive observation of something that was happening beyond ICANN’s ability to affect.

The report makes the claim that progress was made because ICANN (or IANA) has dropped its demand for access to ccTLD zone files before updating the list of IP addresses for the servers for that ccTLD.  That requirement was created out of thin air through a unilateral “staff” decision and with no community input.  For ICANN to claim that removing that requirement is “progress” is facile and misleading - ICANN (or IANA) simply removed a wart of its own creation.

It is amusing to see ICANN claim as progress the receipt of documents sent by other bodies.  It takes a lot of chutzpah to claim that receiving a letter is “progress”, particularly when the claim that this is progress is listed under ICANN’s obligation to “provide expertise”.

I am repeatedly amused by ICANN’s listing of the number of numbers that have been assigned by IANA.  Most of that job consists of the following steps:

1. Opening up the big book of numbers
2. Finding the highest number previously allocated
3. Adding one
4. Writing it down
5. Closing the big book of numbers

Yes, sometimes step #3 is more complex - sometimes a simple formula must be computed or a designated expert consulted.  But for the vast bulk of the numbers (such as the “Private Enterprise Numbers”—you may want to see who has number #12) the flow chart above pretty much describes the job.

The report fails to give what would be some rather interesting accounts - How many hours of meetings were held with doors closed to the public?  How many miles were flown by ICANN personnel?  How many visits were made by ICANN or its agents to the US Department of Commerce?  What type of material was redacted from the “public” version of reports made by ICANN to the US Department of Commerce?  How many layers of institutional insulation were imposed between ICANN’s Board and the members of the public? (Answer: 4).

The report also failed to note the growth of hostility to ICANN among the internet technical community and the increasing number of bodies that are calling for ICANN’s relationship to IANA to be clarified and strictly limited, and for several technical matters to be severed from ICANN (and IANA) and placed into the hands of less politicized bodies.

Nor did ICANN’s report note the number of half-measures that are likely to simply ossify into biased and prejudiced policies without the second half ever being considered - things like “accuracy” in the Whois database - with only the thinnest of pretenses of ever asking why Whois data is gathered in the first place and what privacy limitations ought to obtain.

Apart from the content, the report demonstrates a serious failure of ICANN’s ability to govern itself.  No notice of this report was given to ICANN’s Board of Directors.  Once again ICANN’s “staff” bypassed the Board of Directors, indicating once again a failure of proper organizational subordination.  And ICANN’s Board of Directors once again silently accepted the abuse of its position and authority, thus nullifying even the most tenuous claims that the Board of Directors and ICANN represent the public interest.

This article originally published in the CaveBear Blog at http://www.cavebear.com/cbblog/

By Karl Auerbach, Chief Technical Officer at InterWorking Labs

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