ICANN un-accountability

The elephant in the room
An opportunity for user freedom
The latest news is the report [1] on ICANN’s un-accountability produced by Robin Gross. It’s a searing exposition of a system designed for grabbing money and power. A quasi unanimous
demand expressed in other additional reports (background materials in [2]) is the creation of an
independent worldwide body in charge of overseeing ICANN’s activities.

These issues on ICANN un-accountability are to be debated in a workshop at the United Nations
Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Istanbul on 3rd September, see announcement [2].
Quite obviously neither ICANN nor the US Government (USG) are qualified for setting up an
independent overseer body.
A quick scan for potential structures suggests :
a) working group within the UN system
b) IGO
c) NGO
d) ad hoc group
The process for creating a new body could be primed by a coalition of States and other
organizations placing one or several calls for proposals. Evaluation, short list, and hopefully
selection would follow.
An alternative would be strapping the process on WSIS+10 preparation.
If a selection could be worked out by September 2015, the process would dovetail with the IANA
contract termination.

Now let’s factor realpolitik into the process

Will the USG tolerate an independent worldwide ICANN’s overseer ?
Of course not. Remember the 2005 diktat [3] during WSIS.
The USG needs ICANN to keep internet under its control (Congress, National Security Agency
(NSA), total information dominance, surveillance, etc.)

Is ICANN oversight possible if it is under USG control ?
No more than now, that is not at all.

Does the world need ICANN ?
That’s the basic question.

Let’s see whether ICANN is actually mandatory in internet. The IP network of networks operates without ICANN interference.
The ICANN Domain Name System (DNS) is operated by Verisign, a USG contractor. Thus
traffic is monitored by the NSA, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) can seize user
sites or domains anywhere in the world if they are hosted by US companies or subsidiaries.
The USG is adamant on keeping control of the ICANN DNS. Thus copies (mirrors) should be
made available in other countries out of reach from the FBI.

A German organization Open Root
Server Network (ORSN) [4] is presently operating such a service. To make use of it users have to
modify the DNS addresses in their internet access device. That’s all, usage is free.
A whole country could as well decide to make the ORSN DNS her preferred choice for internet
access. Then users would not even have to update their DNS addresses.
At this point users would be reasonably safe from FBI interference, much less from NSA though.
ORSN like organizations can vet DNS files for malicious data, track attacks from spies and
pirates, manage domain resolutions, provide statistics, etc. without having to deal with ICANN at

However, there remains the major bone of contention, un-accountability in the ICANN domain
name business. In realpolitik this calls for some bolder initiatives.

First of all, ICANN is a de facto monopoly imposed by the USG. Breaking that monopoly does
not require any agreement with the USG, because it is certainly contrary to the World Trade
Organization (WTO) principles.
In other words multiple roots (DNS directory) are not only
technically feasible, they have been introduced in the internet back in 1995, even before ICANN
was created.

This avenue is open to entrepreneurs and institutions for innovative services tailored
to user needs, specially those users unable to afford the extravagant fees raked in by ICANN.

deployment of independent roots [5] creates competition and contributes to rein in devious
practices in the domain name market.
In this context a usual scarecrow brandished by the USG and its propaganda is fragmentation, or
balkanization, of the internet. All monopolies resort to similar arguments whenever their turf is
threatened by a looming competition. Furthermore, the proprietary naming and unstable service
definitions specific to the likes of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and more, have
already divided up the internet in as many closed and incompatible internettos of captive users.

Multiple roots introduce an additional level in the naming structure. This allows, within the same
technical standards, a diversity of services tailored to different classes of users, e.g. languages,
revenues, interests, company clients, etc. The so called new gTLDs may be packaged for similar
applications, at much higher prices, and limited to the captive users in the ICANN fishbowl.
fits-all is nonsense at world level.

Multiple roots are an opportunity in the institutional space for creating a worldwide,
independent, neutral, inclusive, etc. function limited to the registration of root names and
Let’s not wait for too long, as we will need a few more standards. Anyone ? How
about Switzerland ?
Realpolitik is no more predictable than the weather. Nonetheless the abuse of its monopoly
position by ICANN and the USG has reached a point where users frustations are calling for
reactions from governments, e.g. in human rights, data protection, equitable taxations, security,
and sovereignty.
The internet perestroika is just beginning.

Louis Pouzin - August 2014, IGF Istanbul

[1]- http://ipjustice.org/wp/2014/08/21/quelle-suprise-icann’s-accountability-plan-gives-icann-board-total-controlicann-
[2]- http://ipjustice.org/wp/2014/08/21/igf-2014-workshop-23-accountability-in-the-icann-multi-stakeholdergovernance-
[4]- http://www.orsn.org/en/tech/
[5]- http://open-root.eu/ presentations at IGF Village 2014 in EUROLINC booth.

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