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WGIG Too Focused on Negative Side of the Internet?

The following is a report by Susan Crawford at the ICANN meeting in Cape Town where a workshop was held yesterday for increasing awareness and understanding of United Nation’s World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and issues that directly impact ICANN. (“WSIS” is defined as a process in which governments intend to address a broad range of international legal, regulatory, economic, and policy issues related to the Internet. Some governments have proposed that an intergovernmental organization be responsible for “Internet governance,” a phrase that remains undefined and some consider to include and/or mean the administration and coordination of the domain name system (DNS).)

Christopher Wilkinson comes to the mike: “I want to remind members of the WGIG [Working Group on Internet Governance] that governments have been involved with ICANN steadily for the past six years.”

Paul Wilson of APNIC made a presentation on behalf of Number Resource Organizations (RIRs):

“We feel that within WSIS, the principle issues are those of the independence and genuine internationalization of ICANN. The NRO has called on ICANN to continue its work in this area, not by building a monolithic multinational organization, but rather by increased cooperation and collaboration with its core stakeholders.

We’ve also called on ICANN to work with the US Government to publish a genuine, unambiguous plan for its independence after the current MoU, and to commit to this plan before the conclusion of the second phase of the WSIS [to be held next year]. This is critical, to provide the WSIS community with certainty as to the future form and status of ICANN after WSIS, a question which is certainly still unclear to many.

Also as a critical issue of Internet governance, the NRO rejects any concept of an alternative Internet administrative model located within any governmental or intergovernmental structure. We acknowledge fully that there is a valid role for governments in the administration of the Internet, however this can and should be placed in the context of the current model.

Recently, the NRO posted a public response to Houlin Zhou’s memorandum on Internet Governance, addressing the proposal for a national allocation scheme for IPv6 addresses. Like others such as the Japanese Internet Governance Taskforce, we have serious and very genuine concerns about the technical and operational implications of such a scheme.

The assertion of sovereign concerns in this case is a certainly powerful and legitimate argument, however there are mechanisms either in place now or certainly feasible, which may address the same concern with far lower risk. For the sake of the stability and security of the Internet, such solutions should certainly be explored.

Finally, in relation to the WGIG, I’d like to revisit some comments I made during the Geneva meeting last week. It seems that the definition of Internet Governance, which is the first of WGIG’s tasks, is being driven by negative aspects of the Internet, as a list of “problem areas” of the net.

Or in other words, as a list of bugs rather than features.

The point here is that many aspects of the Internet are not being suggested as topics of Governance, simply because they currently work well enough not to be on the radar. These include such things as the routing system (which is pretty stable), competition between alternate root servers (which would certainly be an issue in the absence of the concerted efforts which have been made to avoid it), and the global interoperability of all parts of the net (which is assumed without question but by no means guaranteed).

I suggested to the Working Group last week that these and other aspects of the Internet must not be taken for granted, and the famous principle of “do no harm” should be borne strongly in mind. I suggested that rather than seeing Internet Governance as a list of bugs, WGIG should consider features of the Internet which are to be appreciated and preserved, and include this consideration in the scope of its work. The risk of overlooking them, and this is a real risk, is to “do harm” to the Internet, and potentially therefore, to leave a longer list of problems for some future Working Group to solve.”

By Susan Crawford, Professor, Cardozo Law School in New York City

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