Editorial says internet governance should stay as it is.
I’ve long argued that the current ICANN set-up — with some oversight from the United States government — is ideal. I have some grievances about how ICANN is unaccountable to anything except itself, but believe there shouldn’t be a “United Nations” governing it.
Of course, many people and governments outside the United States think they should have a hand in how the internet’s naming system is run. And they do. The governmental constituency of ICANN, called Governmental Advisory Committee, is symbolic of what to expect out of any “U.N. for domains”. Basically the only contribution they’ve made recently is to argue that they should have rights to any top level or second level domain name of their country or region.
But my main worry is that authoritarian, non-democratic countries would stifle free speech.
In today’s Wall Street Journal, former WSJ publisher L. Gordon Crovitz argues that the current model of internet governance is the best option.
One of the marvels of the Internet is that it is self-governing, with private groups of engineers and technology companies doing their best to keep it up and running without political interference. Many countries around the world censor how their citizens access the Web, but governance of the Internet itself has been left to technologists and their largely libertarian instincts. This happy state of affairs could be close to an end.
Crovitz suggests that new top level domain names could push governments to get more involved and try to exert influence on internet naming:
This will make the Web more accessible to non-English-speakers but also will lead to tricky issues, such as whether dissidents in China or Iran will be permitted to have their own dot-addresses. How would Beijing respond to a Chinese-language domain that translates into .democracy or .limitedgovernment, perhaps hosted by computers in Taipei or Vancouver?
This prospect could explain why Beijing recently had a top bureaucrat engage with Icann for the first time since 2001. Governments tend to be less concerned when only their better-educated, more English-fluent citizens have access to information.
I frequently hear from people who say the U.S. exerts too much power, has a ridiculous legal system, and is hardly the place for ICANN to be based. But at the end of the day there’s a reason the U.S. thrives, and there’s a reason ICANN should work under the gentle hand of the U.S. government.
Of course in principle it should be an international body, but in practice this would be a disaster. ICANN may not be perfect, but I fear that if it were to adopted by a body like the UN then the internet would become politicised; politicians would view the DNS as a tool designed for regulation, and regulate they would!