ICANN, Freedom™ and Apple Pie®

[Note: This was submitted to RISKS digest but rejected.]

A WSJ op-ed quoted in RISKS digest:

This means, effective next year, the U.S. will no longer oversee the “root zone file,” which contains all names and addresses for websites world-wide. If authoritarian regimes in Russia, China and elsewhere get their way, domains could be banned and new ones not approved for meddlesome groups such as Ukrainian-independence organizations or Tibetan human-rights activists.

Until late last week, other countries knew that Washington would use its control over Icann to block any such censorship.

What a steaming pile.

Recall that starting on 29 November 2010, the US government used its control of the DNS root servers to get Verisign to seize Internet domain names, including one which was registered and hosted in Canada and belonged to a Canadian company. The explicit aim of the seizure was to block meddlesome groups, in this case online casinos and alleged counterfeiters and copyright violators. The orders were sealed and secret. ICANN initially did nothing, and then in 2012 they published a set of helpful instructions for governments wanting to seize domains.

So while I appreciate that Americans enjoy the fiction that the US government or ICANN are the lone forces preventing Internet censorship, it’s not actually true. In reality, the US government has explicitly stated that it considers itself to have the right to seize anything registered under a generic top-level domain.

So making ICANN independent of the US government is a good move, and a necessary one if the organization is to regain the trust of those outside the US.

Yes, it will be bad if ICANN ends up controlled by China or Russia, but that doesn’t mean it’s good having it controlled by the US.