[AfrICANN-discuss] If history teaches us anything…

Anne-Rachel Inné annerachel at gmail.com
Sun Sep 4 12:32:13 SAST 2011

http://news.dot-nxt.com/2011/09/03/history-teaches-us-nothingIf history
teaches us anything…

by Emily Taylor | 3 Sep 2011 |

an obscure organization of 50 people located on the third floor of a
building overlooking a marina in Los Angeles…it’s that history teaches us
nothing.  Reading the European Commission’s six papers on Internet
governance this week was like flipping back in time to the bad old days of
the World Summit on the Information Society, when it looked like the
management of the domain name system would get sucked into an
intergovernmental agency, and the technical coordination mired in

Eight years ago, governments decided they were worried about the Internet.
It was having an ever-increasing influence over their societies, and causing
a number of significant and previously unknown problems. The trouble was:
they couldn’t find out which government department was in charge of it.

The most tangible entity that was eventually discovered was an obscure
organization of 50 people located on the third floor of a building
overlooking a marina in Los Angeles. That clearly wasn’t good enough, so the
World Summit on the Information Society was created.

Even accounting for the fast pace of the Internet, 29 September 2005 isn’t
all that long ago.  That was the day when David Hendon of the UK Department
of Trade and Industry (then BERR, now BIS), woke up to find that he was in
the centre of a media and political storm, all because of a rather bland
diplo-speak EU statement on Internet Governance the day before.

In the end, good sense prevailed, and somehow there was a realization that
new systems were need for a new mediumReading the EU statement now, it seems
hard to believe why it caused such a firestorm.  A lot of the ideas and text
is quite close to the final text in the WSIS Tunis Agenda.  The “crime” was
that it called for a “new cooperation model” for Internet governance, with
“international government involvement”.  The US, Argentina, well, everyone
really, interpreted the EU as calling for an end to the United States’ sole
oversight over ICANN.

But this wasn’t just a squabble over the rather dry subject of Internet
infrastructure.  The real damage that EU statement did in 2005 was to
strengthen the position of authoritarian governments, like China, Syria and
Iran, who wanted (and still want) greater control over choke points in the
Internet – to restore harmony whenever messy old freedom of expression gets
in the way.

In the end, good sense prevailed, and somehow there was a realization that
new systems were need for a new medium. A new form of collaborative
governance was created – multistakeholderism – and the technical
coordination of Internet addressing remained where it was, because it

But history teaches us nothing. So, as Tolkein would say, “And some things
that should not have been forgotten were lost.”  This year has seen
extraordinary reactions against the freedoms afforded by the Internet from
the most unlikely sources:

   - The British Prime Minister responded to the recent riots in the UK by
   announcing that he’s looking at banning people from social networks such as
   Twitter and Facebook.  At the same time, the post-Mubarak Egyptian
   government is considering how to protect its citizens from a repeat of the
   Internet switch off that happened earlier this year.  Has the world gone
   upside down?
   - A UN report in 2011 stated that Internet access was a human right,
   described the “chilling effect” on freedom of expression of technical
   measures such as blocking or filtering, and condemned the erosion of
   intermediary liability (which protects ISPs)
   - The same report praised Chile and Brazil for enacting legislation that
   demanded due process – a court order – before cutting people off from the
   Internet.  Just as Nominet, the .uk registry, has brought forward proposals
   to cut off the domain names on the say-so of law enforcement without due

In the United Nations, Western governments are always outvoted
This insidious erosion of Internet freedoms has crept into the dry world of
Internet governance.  In the 6 years since WSIS, it seemed that the concept
of multistakeholder governance had become universally accepted.  The G8 and
the OECD in 2011 stated that it was the only appropriate way of developing
Internet policy.  Ironically, the UN body appointed to review the Internet
Governance Forum (which invented multistakeholderism) decided to exclude
non-governmental stakeholders from the review, and only later reluctantly
invited them in as guests, not full participants.

But a history lesson on WSIS might remind Western governments why
multistakeholderism is in their best interests when it comes to the
Internet.  In the United Nations, Western governments are always outvoted.
 The most powerful group within the UN is the Group of 77 countries
(confusingly, numbering 131 members) and China.  But in a multistakeholder
environment, Western governments can generally rely on the support of
business and (mostly) civil society to counter the authoritarian instincts
of the majority of governments.

So, why is the European Commission doing
 Why is it effectively proposing that the IANA contract become the “new
cooperation model” that the EU was searching for back in 2005?  Perhaps in
the rarified world of the EU, comprising Western democracies, it thinks that
all governments behave in the same way?  Maybe it believes that a bilateral
deal between the US/EU providing oversight of Internet addressing will be
acceptable to other governments?

The answer, of course, lies in the acts and omissions of ICANN itself – the
enfant terrible of Internet Governance, which has shown itself disdainful of
government input.  Inevitably, those Western Governments who have taken the
painful route of supporting ICANN over the past 6 years, can no longer
pretend that an obscure organisation on the third floor of a building
overlooking a marina in Los Angeles is the answer to global Internet

The shame of it is that in cutting ICANN loose the European Commission is
once again playing into the hands of governments whose values it should not
share, and – as Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister of Sweden, put it in 2005
in an article on WSIS – will bring it “enthusiastic applause from Tehran,
Beijing and Havana.”  It seems that, so far as the EC is concerned, “history
is bunk”.

   - Emily Taylor's blog <http://news.dot-nxt.com/blog/5>
   - Login<http://news.dot-nxt.com/user/login?destination=comment%2Freply%2F295%23comment-form>or
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