[AfrICANN-discuss] ICANN's "Unelected" Crisis

Anne-Rachel Inné annerachel at gmail.com
Mon Sep 5 19:07:01 SAST 2011

Mike Roberts was the 1st President and CEO of ICANN.

ICANN's "Unelected"
By *Michael Roberts* <http://www.circleid.com/members/1787/>
 [image: Michael Roberts]

The leaked release of the European Commission's working papers on the future
of Top Level Domains highlights the impending collision between adherents of
the present "multistakeholder" ICANN governance model, and an ever longer
list of national governments who challenge that model.

At the core of the controversy is the question of how ICANN can claim
legitimacy in the DNS world when none of its Directors or Officers are
elected. Even worse, its only answer, when challenged legally, is that it is
responsive to its contract with an agency of the U.S. Government, which
agency claims authority from the elected Congress of the United States
through the agency's organic act, which nowhere mentions the Internet,
ICANN, or the Domain Name System.

Historically, the Internet has been all about getting the networking job
done. The motto of the Internet Engineering Task Force is "rough consensus
and working code." The attitude of the industry has been that governments,
the proverbial "lagging indicator," are the last people to be guiding,
directing or governing the Internet. There is loads of empirical evidence
that we would not have a global Internet today if everyone had waited around
for legislation.

But things have changed. The Internet today is not about packets and their
technology, it is about content, with all its social, political, religious,
and economic implications. There are daily illustrations of its power to
curb tyranny — the Arab "Spring" — and to empower pathology and lawlessness
— the London riots.

A decade ago, the balance of political sentiment was articulated in "hands
off the Internet." Today, content wars are pushing the pendulum the other
way, and the question is how far towards control by elected bodies will
ICANN and other Internet governance functions move.

In addition to the "unelected" problem, ICANN faces criticism of its
multistakeholder model. In many eyes, multistakeholder is a ruse to cover
effective control of ICANN by equally unelected special interests. Scrutiny
of the inner workings of ICANN shows domination by long time insiders whose
own economic welfare is bound up in ICANN decisions. Representative
democracy this is not.

Because of the tens of millions of dollars at stake, many ICANN decision
processes today — new TLDs being the latest example — suffer from the smells
attendant on political sausage making so familiar in Washington and other
capitals. Whatever level of idealism existed when the ICANN experiment was
begun, most of it has dissipated.

If ICANN is to maintain its quasi-independence, a hard boiled,
Kissinger-like brand of pragmatic statesmanship will be necessary. The time
for platitudes about sheltering the Internet from muddling by ignorant
government bureaucrats is over. The time for pretending that lobbyists for
domain name companies are "multistakeholders" is over. ICANN still has the
power to act like the enlightened regulator it should be, but hasn't been.
If it cannot step up to this challenge, then a government dominated future
is certain.

*By Michael Roberts <http://www.circleid.com/members/1787/>*
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