July 14, 2004

More thoughts on ICANN's SSAC report on Verisign's Sitefinder

This is a followup to my note of July 9, First thoughts on ICANN SSAC Report.

The short form is this: ICANN's SSAC reached the right answer but through the wrong means.

ICANN is once again making ad hoc responses to systemic issues.  This creates a regime of unpredictability that places any innovation that is unfavored by ICANN under a cloud.  ICANN further weakens its position by citing as well established processes things that are neither well established (outside of the IETF) nor widely accepted.

ICANN has squandered five years by failing to establish objective and broadly accepted guidelines upon which one may rely to know what kind of innovations and inventions will be permitted by ICANN and which will not.  Instead ICANN's report constitutes an assertion that the internet will be governed by a code of subjective orthodoxy.

ICANN was created to ensure that the technical aspects of the internet's DNS and IP address systems operate reliably 24x7x365.  This it has not done.

There is no doubt in the minds of many (myself included) that Verisign's sitefinder grievously violates the end-to-end principle.  However, there is no law on the books that elevates the end-to-end principle to a mandatory law that must be obeyed.  ICANN squandered its moral authority over technical matters by becoming the handmaiden of the trademark industry and by ignoring for year after year a number of specific and detailed requests that it actually become involved in matters that actually affect the reliable, secure, and efficient delivery of DNS and IP address services to internet users.

As ICANN's Chairman, Vint Cerf, is quoted as saying, the SSAC report is indeed an important document in the life of ICANN.  I'm sure he has his reasons for believing this.  I agree that the document is important.  I believe that the SSAC report is important because it demonstrates that ICANN has not the slightest clue regarding the context in which ICANN operates.  The SSAC report demonstrates that ICANN does not comprehend that the choice of what is proper and what is not proper on the net is not to be measured by technical platitudes but rather through a careful and principled balancing of private equities, technical, social, and economic, against the public's need for both innovation and stability.

My concern is that ICANN has taken the path of arbitrary and capricious response to Verisign and Sitefinder rather than the path of objective principle.  The difference is between that of vigilantism on one the hand and judicial process on the other.

Sitefinder is so bad that the fact that ICANN is using vigilante methods to combat Sitefinder might be overlooked in our emotional reactions to the situation.  However it would be very bad if we failed to take notice that ICANN's methodology vis-a-vis Sitefinder creates a situation in which new ideas, much like the ideas from which the internet arose from the technical orthodoxy of the 1970's telcos, could be unfairly condemned and suppressed.

This represents a great danger to the future of innovation.

Moreover, given ICANN's obsequious approach to the intellectual property industry, and given that industry's proclivity to use any means, technical or not, to further its goals, even if the result is the suppression of technology to a degree amounting to un-invention, the SSAC/ICANN report's lack of a principled method for making hard choices is something that should be of great concern and of little comfort.

Posted by karl at July 14, 2004 11:55 PM