ICANN's new role: It's about keeping people from being killed by terrorist plots hatched over the net says Mike Roberts


With apologies to the non-US members of this list, I'd like to make
some comments that are inevitably US-centric.

Today marked a watershed day in the history of the Internet. In some
sense, the real date was September 11, when the leadership role of
the United States in world peace, in economic development, and in
technology innovation was challenged by a group of determined
religious fanatics using our own technology on us to cause the death
of thousands of innocent people.

But the legal date between the "old" Internet and the "new Internet
was today, October 26, 2001,when President George Bush signed the
anti-terrorism bill that was passed by the upper house of Congress
yesterday with one dissenting vote.

This legislation brings the Internet and its developers, providers
and users directly into the new war on terrorism. It extends
extensive new power to law enforcement to find, capture, and punish
those who use the network for terrorism or other criminal activity.
It removes the previous barriers between foreign and domestic
anti-terrorism investigations and establishes the principle that
whoever you are, wherever you are, if you use the net for terrorism,
you are in the sights of the FBI, the CIA, the NSA and their foreign

In the New York Times this morning, under the heading "We are All
Alone," widely respected columnist Tom Friedman said, "Focus instead
on the firemen who rushed into the trade center towers without
asking, 'How much?' Focus on the thousands of U.S. reservists who
have left their jobs and families to go fight in Afghanistan without
asking, 'What's in it for me?' Unlike the free-riders in our
coalition, these young Americans know that September 11 is our holy
day - the first day in a just war to preserve our free,
multi-religious, democratic society. And I don't really care if that
war coincides with Ramadan, Christmas, Hanukkah, or the Buddha's
birthday - the most respectful and spiritual thing we can do now is
fight it until justice is done."

After a week of tough fighting in Afghanistan where the battle is
rapidly deteriorating to the same "take no prisoners" ethic that
prevailed on September 11, the same week that professionally prepared
anthrax kept showing up in new places everyday on the U.S. east coast
and killed two postal workers, there is a determined and deadly
resolve to follow the Friedman advice.

A resolve that will affect many if not most institutions, among them ICANN.

It's different now for ICANN. What started out as your typical
ritual White House privatization effort; one that parroted the young
Clintonites' "Agenda for Action" of 1993; the Al Gore "Information
Superhighway" speech; that provided a last hurrah for Clinton advisor
Magaziner at the end of the second term. A sly political move that
solved, or maybe solved, the National Science Foundation's honest
mistake in giving Network Solutions and SAIC a billion dollar
monopoly. That is not the ICANN of post-Sept 11.

It's different now. It's not world government because national
governments are evil; it's not Internet governance because national
laws are unjust; it's not a response to some abstract imagining of
the global popular will; it's not solving poverty, famine,
infanticide, drug abuse and political oppression in the DNS.

It's serious. It's first things first. It's about keeping people
from being killed by terrorist plots hatched over the net. All of a
sudden it matters that you know what you are talking about. If you
are an Internet engineer, what about nailing down the RFC's needed
for secure new functionality in the DNS? If you are a root server
host organization CEO, all of a sudden being a volunteer in Jon
Postel's army takes on new meaning. If you're the manager of a top
level domain name registry, it's not a pc in a closet time anymore.
Important people are watching, people who have the ability to
nationalize you overnight if you're not carrying your weight in
making the Internet more secure. The Japanese government and the
United States government are sending cabinet level officers to speak
at the November ICANN meeting about how serious this really is.

So what does this have to do with At Large? First, don't expect to
get the attention of the study committee, your fellow stakeholders in
ICANN, the dedicated members of the Board, or the governments whose
sanction makes this privatization effort possible, with a
continuation of the shallow rhetoric that has characterized the
postings on this list. Second, think seriously about constructive
improvements in the recommendations of the ALSC. Nobody cares that
you don't like a particular recommendation, they want to know whether
you have a better idea, an idea that is good enough to gather the
support of a lot of other interested parties that may not share your
individual political or social or economic background but are
nevertheless interested in the future welfare of ICANN. Third, be
prepared to compromise your goals in the interests of forging an At
Large organization that contributes to an ICANN that is going to
operate in a far different environment than its founders envisaged.

The study committee has worked hard. It doesn't deserve the abuse it
has received on this list. The several points of the action plan are
reasonable, centrist, and provide a basis for moving forward. They
deserve your support.

- Mike Roberts