August 29, 2003

Response to Bret Fausett

In response to my previous item Bret Fausett commented (in an item on his blog) "I don't see why ICANN should be involved in the manner in which the root server operators deploy their servers."

From a technical perspective, my answer is that the ICANN that exists today is not competent to be more than marginally involved any technical matter.

However, we need to step back and look to the purpose for which ICANN was established: the "technical coordination" of the DNS and IP address allocation systems of the net to ensure the continued and reliable operation of those systems.

The operation of those technical systems has a great impact on the reliable operation and security of the net.  ICANN was to be a forum in which the raw technical concerns could be leavened with those (and presumably only those) policy issues that have a close and direct impact on the choice of technical approaches.

ICANN's CRADA (and its amendments) make it quite clear that ICANN is expected to be involved in technical matters pertaining to the operation and deployment of DNS root servers.  And ICANN's much vaunted, but effectively dead, security effort was also clearly tied to the technical matters of DNS root server deployment and operations.

Instead of doing what ICANN was constructed to do - be a limited body dealing with matters that have a high technical content and closely associated with DNS and IP address allocation systems - ICANN has silently repudiated that role and has undertaken to be focused solely on business and economic regulation, like a mini government.

The Department of Commerce has allowed ICANN to become a DoC endorsed means through which the DoC can push non-technical policy goals for which the DoC itself lacks legal authority.

And with the hearings scheduled in about a week in by a subcommittee of the US House of Representatives, it is clear that at least some Congress Critters™ consider ICANN to be a nice way to impose public policy, with the effect of a worldwide law by virtue of ICANN's hierarchy of contracts, without the need to actually pass legislation.

The operators of the DNS root servers, competent as they are, are operating in a public policy vacuum.  They are making decisions that affect us all in the absence of any institutional structures for the public interest to be raised and considered.  ICANN was to be that institutional structure.  The root server operators effectively gave ICANN the same salute that Mel Gibson and his army gave the English army in the movie Brave Heart.  ICANN retreated and in its withdrawal it abandoned its obligation to articulate and advance the public interest.

Posted by karl at August 29, 2003 3:28 PM