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Weblog Entry

Internet Control Struggle

October 14, 2005

If you’ve been following the news, you may be aware of the growing struggle over control of the internet. At issue: the United States wants to retain control, no one else wants to let them.

A real fear is that if the major players can’t come to some sort of agreement, it could lead to country-specific segregation. The global nature of the net would crumble as national sandboxes prevent incoming or outgoing connections to other local networks, through active censorship or simply benign incompatibility.

But I guess there’s a silver lining. With ICANN’s moves of late being the approval of boneheaded top-level domains like .mobi, among others, I wouldn’t be terribly upset were they replaced.


Robert F. says:
October 14, 01h

HA! And what about the US? “Think of the Children!” “RIAA” and “War on Drug/Porn/Whatever” right back at ya.

But the difference is that U.S. agencies go after the webservers. At issue here is the DNS system, the root servers. Currently one has to be careful where to put their webserver so as not to break that countries’ laws, but securing a domain name isn’t an issue.

The US’ fear is that an international body would start restricting domain names and where they point. From what I’ve read, nations like China and Iran want international control (You know they’d love that, make their censorship a lot easier, eh?) and the EU is trying to be a go-between and get ICANN to remain in control but strip the US of it’s power to alter the data on the DNS servers. Basically, if the US wants to, we can change the root DNS servers. The US wants this, the EU wants the US to give it up, and other nations want international control!

All I can say, is that if the UN takes control, we might as well look to replace the internet.

nortypig says:
October 14, 01h

I don’t think its a bad idea to do it just that its human nature (and animal nature) to rip stuff to shreds if they don’t get their allotted shares. There is a real danger of this devolving to a push and point argument.

Umm why isn’t DNS working right how it is right now again? I don’t really understand.

There are many regimes in the world I’d prefer kept their toes out of it as well. So I guess its complicated and obviously some argument is going over my head.

I just see that people are wanting their share of something valuable, as usual. Why not just let DNS be? The US hasn’t exactly done a shocker of a job have they?

But just my opinion I guess… (no I’m not American lol)

3
Eric says:
October 14, 02h

“Every country has flaws”

Yes, but the UN isn’t a country. Like someone said, it’s a place where dictators are a constituency, but their victims aren’t. Look who’s running the Human Rights committee, for one.

Now, the Europeans and the Americans can point at each others’ free speech foibles, but they and the other liberals nations of the world have a lot more in common when it comes to free speech than with, say, China.

Let’s talk about internationalizing the internet - but why involve the UN? There are lots of major, active international agreements that don’t involved it. Why couldn’t the US and some other free speech-loving countries set up an independent organization for managing the root servers, protecting the network infrastructure, and ensuring open communication across the network?

4
Eric says:
October 14, 02h

Ugh, typos. That should have been “they and the other liberal nations” and “agreements that don’t involve it”.

5
Sean says:
October 14, 03h

“HA! And what about the US? “Think of the Children!” “RIAA” and “War on Drug/Porn/Whatever” right back at ya.”

The US doesn’t censor domains, and has not censored any sites hosted in the US that abide by US law. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to prove that the US Government is actively trying to limit the information its citizens read on the net, unlike China, Iran or North Korea. I would also point out that in the three examples you posted there is no evidence to support the US closing web sites for anything other than infractions of the law. If you run a child porn site it gets shut down, if you post copyrighted music it gets shut down, if you post a site selling Weed via a shopping cart system it gets shut down… all if served within the US. As for porn, are you going to tell me US control over ICANN has made porn impossible or illegal to look at in the US?

I’m not for a one government monopoly on the root servers, however I will not support a changeover if the new managing body resembles the members of the UN Human Rights. China, Iran and North Korea have no right asking for control over a system they’ve been trying to censor or eradicate from their country since its inception. As for the rest of the western countries I’m for sharing, but first lay out in absolute terms how free speech will be protected from persecution on the net, then I’ll sign off.

Caleb says:
October 14, 04h

“Don’t fix it if it’s not broken.”

The only way it is broken is that oppressive regimes such as China and Iran can’t control things outside their borders. If a country is so worried about the US trying to destroy them by cutting their access, it is possible for these countries to setup backup root servers so that even without a hiccup their “internet” would still work inside their country. The US has shared the internet part of which was root servers for DNS with everyone and now they are saying we can’t be in charge of what we created? I trust ICANN more than I do the UN to run DNS plain and simple.

Dante says:
October 14, 10h

Call me crazy, but wouldn’t having one organisation/country control the internet defeat its purpose?

October 14, 11h

…and the continuing fight *against* the .xxx TLD that wouldn’t be a concern if the DNS record were being controlled somewhere that wasn’t waging a war on pornography :)

9
danp says:
October 14, 11h

In response to Chris Clark:

True, but then you’d have to worry about the free speech violations of just about every other country in the world? You want China running the internet? Even most european countries have restrictions on hate speech. I for one don’t want France or Germany deciding my website violates their backwards speech laws.

Dave S. says:
October 14, 11h

Right, let’s recognize we have an international crowd in here and not let this devolve into nationalistic finger-pointing.

Every country has flaws, which nicely demonstrates why it’s a good idea that no one country should be in charge.

October 14, 11h

The whole idea of category specific TLDs is flawed in my opinion. What if your company goes from providing .travel information to something else? Will you change your domain as a function of your service thereby breaking all links to your site? Stupid, stupid, stupid. It’s about as bad as naming your CSS classes .greenText or URIs /team/bob/company_manual.html

As for the US wanting to retain control. I’m sure the NSA has something to do with that. After all, they donated land in New York to the UN so that NSA’s eavesdropping would be easier.

12
Sean says:
October 14, 11h

Problem I have with giving the EU or the UN control over the internet is censorship. The UN human rights document is an example of how many countries think free speech is only a right as long as it is allowed by the overseeing authority (the UN in that case). I have no problem with more than one country working together to call the shots, but taking the total control away from the Us just because its the US isn’t a good enough reason, and until we have a world wide internet bill of rights I won’t support any unknown change.

AkaXakA says:
October 14, 11h

“Every country has flaws, which nicely demonstrates why it’s a good idea that no one country should be in charge.”

That pretty much sums up my views too.

“Problem I have with giving the EU or the UN control over the internet is censorship.”

HA! And what about the US? “Think of the Children!” “RIAA” and “War on Drug/Porn/Whatever” right back at ya.

14
Gareth says:
October 14, 12h

Don’t forget that the Bush administration prefers to privatize services whenever possible. Running ICANN via UN committee is anathema to them.

Zeerus says:
October 14, 12h

I personally think the idea of categorized TLDs is great. Much more organization, but at what cost? as for control over the internet, it needs to be a cooperative move.

I really think the UN should have the majority vote, as they say

16
Jim says:
October 15, 01h

> The US doesn’t censor domains, and has not censored any sites hosted in the US that abide by US law.

Nonsense. One example off the top of my head would be the censorship of Google by USA courts in response to complaints by the Church of Scientology.

Take a look at the Reporters without Borders press freedom survey sometime. The USA is down below ~20th place or so. The USA is not a paragon of virtue when it comes to free speech. The only thing that’s remarkable about the USA when it comes to free speech is how vocal its citizens are about it.

The people that are spreading fear about China taking over the Internet - please explain how China is going to singlehandedly wrest control of the servers from the UN and impose their will on the rest of the world.

Remember that the USA is a member state of the UN too (even if they don’t pay their bills), and has just as loud a voice as China. I’m sure the USA can successfully put forward a case for freedom of speech even if China has their say too.

A move to maintain the DNS hierarchy by the UN is a move to give all countries an equal say in how it is run. I thought democracy was an American ideal?

Eoghan says:
October 15, 03h

This is a very timely argument.

Right now, Americans represents only 23.4% of the internet’s world users. In fact Europeans represent 28.5% and Asians 34.2%! http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm

This speaks volumes. Why should the minority group control what belongs to all? Let’s make well thought-out decisions together and move away from hasty choices on issues like new TLDs (like .mobi, as Dave metnioned).

Dante says:
October 15, 06h

Gareth is right. (Just for non-Americans reading this the text of the First Amendment is available at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Constitution_of_the_United_States_of_America#Amendment_I in case you were wondering.) Perhaps we need is an “Internet Constitution” that all countries can follow?

But even that “constitution” idea kinda annoys me. I hate restrictions on the internet, but perhaps it’s a necessary evil.

19
theUg says:
October 15, 09h

Undoubdetly curious discussion unfolds here. Aside of the few hickly (bucolic?) responses from the both sides of the story we see spirited, yet knowledgeable debate. I might lack in the lay of it, but I’ll chip in my sixpence out of sheer natural verbosity.

Clearly, the whole DNS system should be decentralized. Meaning not trading bad for worse, but completely removing authority (whichever that might be), physically duplicating servers across geographical networks, and deploying mechaninsm of maintenance providing clarity and consistency of operation. In effect, DNS (and consequently internet as a whole) should function as self-sustaining independent semantically horisontal system.

Whatever I wrote above–do not quote me on that for meself I am not sure what the hell I was talking about.

* * *

Freedom of speech v. freedom of press? Sure, if you won’t let opposition press in to cover your event, you wouldn’t need to prosecite them, cause they don’t have anything to say. Whatever the details, FCC can easily prosecute on any grounds if needed.

As for the US being “the land of the free”, it puzzles me, why children in public schools obliged to pray to Christian god every morning? Why is it okay to wear “I love Jesus” shirt, but for wearing pentagram you will be suspended? I know how it goes–I am from Christian country myself (though secular by constitution of course) with all that implies, but it is hard to comprehend how intrusive it gets in the US.

By the way, I am still perplexed upon the fact that many school districts prohibit teaching (and prosecute teachers) evolutionary theory. It is XXI century after all, and such a barbarity…

20
Jim says:
October 15, 11h

Gareth,

If it quacks like a duck… the fact is, the USA passed a law making it illegal for Google to tell people where particular websites were. This is not new; 2600 were successfully prosecuted for the same thing, it’s also essentially the same thing as the Napster case, which revolved around telling people who had what file.

The ability to take the laws to the Supreme Court is irrelevant; only people with lots of time and money to waste can do it, and even then the outcome is uncertain. The practical effect is that it doesn’t matter if a law is unconstitutional or not, people are still overwhelmingly compelled to obey it. Do you really have freedom of speech when exercising it can ruin you? Does it matter to the average person that the DMCA is unconstitutional when even behemoths like Google back down from challenging it?

I also don’t think drawing a distinction between freedom of the press and freedom of speech is a useful thing to do. Journalism is a form of speech, one of the most important forms of speech. Deliberately acting in such a way as to have a chilling effect on journalism is an attack on free speech.

Backup DNS servers don’t solve policy problems.

21
Gareth says:
October 15, 12h

Jim,

No Amercian court ruled against Google when COS filed a DMCA complaint with Google; Google never challenged the COS. The government did nothing to censor xenu.net. They did nothing to protect them, either. You have to stand up for yourself if you want protection, and Google wasn’t willing to spend money on xenu.net at the time. Xenu.net decided against bring a case against Google or the COS. DMCA has yet to be tested in Supreme Court in this regard. More to the point, Sean meant that the US government did not censor domains through DNS. The DOC did not order ICANN to prevent access to xenu.net.

I looked at Reporters with out Borders, and their complaints regard freedom of press, not freedom of speech. Those are two distinct rights – not the same thing. They cite attempts to pierce shield laws, selective granting of press passes, and the arrest of journalists who got caught up in protests they were covering. Not one of those complaints deals with restriction of speech. No journalist has been arrested for writing a story the government did not like. Obscenity laws are the only area in which the US directly censors expression. Even then, the US has always targeted hosting servers located within its borders. It has not deleted the DNS entries for those sites.

Justify the need for a change in DNS control structures that cannot be dealt with through the establishment of backup DNS servers in concerned countries, and the US might listen.

22
Gareth says:
October 15, 12h

I should clarify, of course, that freedom of speech is not absolute in the US, nor is it freer than in a few other countries. You cannot scream fire in a crowded theater or threaten to kill someone. For more info on how US courts treat the issue, I would recommend findlaw’s notes on the 1st Amendment.

I think the main thing the US dislikes when it comes to speech regulation within the EU is the tendency to regulate hate sppech and the like. Rather thatn decide where the line is, the US permits all of it. Britain is currently grappling with the issue of what is and is not hate speech in its new hate laws. France and Germany tend to be strict in this regard, and the US was disturbed by their attempts to regulate Yahoo on the matter.

23
Gareth says:
October 16, 02h

Jim and TheUg,

I wrote out several paragraphs for point by point rebuttal on the speech press issues, but that consumes nearly four full comment allotments, so I will stay on topic. If you would like to hear more on those issues, I’ll email it to you. Let us focus on DNS.

@ TheUg: Decentralization of DNS is good in principle, but difficult in practice. You need an authority to resolve conflicts; you will end up with chaos otherwise.

@ Jim: What are the policy problems? This is what people mean when they ask “How is the status quo broken?”

You acknowledge that backup DNS roots will solve the the problem of the US deleting a major domain, so what are your other concerns? How would you change DNS to fix them?

Syria says spam is their problem. How can you fix spam through DNS? It’s not feasible to delist an ISP every time one their clients downloads a trojan. Brazil says it finds the .xxx domain morally offensive. That’s okay; they shouldn’t use it. That doesn’t mean they should get to tell everyone else not to use it. Brazil also says all the good names in the top level domains are taken. They can easily solve the problem using a country code. It’s how Aussies and the Chinese dealt with getting .com names for their own. CIRA is rather brutal when it comes to protecting the .ca domain from foreigners, but that gives Canadians a guaranteed place to reside on the net that is under their control. Other issues lie with IANA, not ICANN. Finally, that leaves Iran and China. They want more control over offensive content regardless of the country in which it resides. That raises sovereignty issues on which the US will not cede any ground.

Until we can justify changing a functional status quo, we should not change it. Please tell us your specific problems not already addressed, their significance, and how they cannot be solved in the current system. That will lay a foundation for further discussion.

Let me give you a likely scenario if the UN took control of ICANN. The first issue that will come before such a council will be the .tw domain. The UN formally adheres to the one China principal. Taiwan is not a country in the eyes of the UN, so China might demand the removal of the .tw domain from all DNS servers. How will you protect Taiwan’s domain? The General Assembly does not think the ROC exists. The PRC has bullied or bought the weaker nations into this position. Even the US maintains ambivalence to prevent a possible nuclear conflict over the matter. If no one can veto on that council, Taiwan will lose it’s domain. Thus, the first consequence of international control is the elimination of a democratic nation’s domain. If any nation can veto, the council is hopelessly deadlocked. As a second scenario, consider a UN proposal for a universal tax and service fee on various domains to fund any number of UN projects. That could well be taxation without consent.

The UN doesn’t care about what is right. It is a policy tool that makes compromises to avert wars. You do not let your blender do your laundry; it doesn’t work – blenders are not designed to laundry. So, how do you handle these scenarios? What are the specifics?

24
praetorian says:
October 17, 03h

History reminds me of four things it might be worth remembering in the course of this debate:

America(’s military) built what became the Internet.

A majority of the world’s backbone servers exist within US territory.

The UN has been, in the vast majority of its numerous endeavors, a long-term failure.

The more (so-called) liberal the governing institution, the higher and more extensive will be its involvement in and taxation of your life.

October 17, 08h

I dont agree with handing it over to the UN because, to me, they have made enough mistakes as it is. Many country’s are thinking of backing out of it anyways. Its not like Bush listens to the UN, why will anyone when they have no power? I say leave it in American hands, not because we are best, but because it is working and we devloped the technology. You could compare this to giving away necular secrets to the UN to share with the rest of the world. It is just not right! Just my opinion though.

-Ryan

October 18, 04h

In response to #24:

Early signs show that Pasta was first created by civilisations in Western China almost 4000 years ago. Perhaps China should be in control over all the worlds Pasta operations, and decide which countries can receive Pasta and which will be left without….

Sure the internet was developed by one country, but it is used by the entire world, other countries should have a say in what happens with it, at least in my opinion.

The majority of backbone servers may exist in the US, however the majority of it’s users exist in Asia and Europe, not the US.

Stating the the UN is a failure it just false in my opinion. Who knows how many wars and lives have been saved because of UN Peacekeeping forces, and how much information has been brought to our eyes because of the UN. I wouldn’t be so quick to call it a failure. Perhaps you should be better educated in what a failure really is, I would recommend the “I’m feeling Lucky” result of “miserable failure” on Google just to start.

27
netpolitical says:
October 18, 07h

http://news.com.com/Senator+Keep+U.N.+away+from+the+Internet/2100-1028_3-5900690.html
CNET reports that Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) has introduced Senate Resolution 273
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c109:S.RES.273:
“A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that the United Nations and other international organizations shall not be allowed to exercise control over the Internet.”

Via fergie’s tech blog
http://fergdawg.blogspot.com/2005/10/senator-keep-un-away-from-internet.html

28
Evan Veal says:
October 25, 11h

As a US citizen I don’t understand the argument that we aren’t entitled to a certain level of control over a structure which we created.

The US has never had any problem with freely offering things which we created for use by others. But just because large groups of users are outside the US does not negate our interest.

There are now many global users of the GPS system who use it for many critical functions. Does this mean that control of the GPS system should be taken away from the US and given to the UN?
Is that a logical argument?

I won’t argue with the fact that the world users now outnumber US users. Usage of a system does not infer ownership or control. The traffic of all these non-US users is only possible because their networks are referenced through centralized US Root servers (10 out of 13). This critical infrastructure clearly belongs to the US.

Can anyone present an argument for the US to GIVE AWAY critical infrastructure that it owns and maintains?

I most definitely agree that we should create forums for all users (individuals/ governments /etc..) to have a say and a place at the table. But it’s not logical to believe that we would be willing to give up the major share of control over something we created.

Within the structure of the UN and the ITU we could be blocked from change by a single vote from Togo in Africa. Would we then have to pay-off underdeveloped nations to allow change and development of the internet?
Sorry this was longer than I expected…
Just things to think about…

Thanks for listening..
Evan Veal

29
netcitizen says:
October 25, 12h

he internet is not free. Last time I checked with my broadband bill it was about $30.00/month and about $300.00 for cpu.

If an International body took over the internet are you saying that all the domain names being used today be invalid…the problems would still remain for country’s who were slow in seeing the vision of the net. The internet as we see it today is not as universal as we like to see it. China and Cuba restrict wedpages and if if some one in North Korea wants to buy my product from my website can they really expect receive it.

Let those country who object from the present system break away and find there own solutions. In the long run the will again merge together in the global economy.

netcitizen