ICANN, the private organization which effectively controls the Internet's domain name system (DNS), has once again become the subject of sharp criticism from the Internet community. ICANN's board on Thursday voted 15-3 in favor of discontinuing public elections to its ranks, alienating the group even further from real Internet users. A powerful and suddenly more private ICANN is now poised to become even more deeply involved in "governance" of the Internet.
ICANN CEO Stuart Lynn attempted to put a positive spin on the news, claiming that it would make his corporation more efficient and better able to reach its objectives. Its objectives, of course, have little to do with what could make the Internet a better place.
Through its connections to the U.S. government and the Information Sciences Institute, ICANN maintains a stronghold on the 13 servers which form the root of the DNS. This power has been exploited for a multitude of purposes which together reflect the greediness of ICANN's board, its allegiance to big corporate interests, and its disinterest in advancing the Internet for public good.
Among the board's Mafia-like tactics is the extortion of funds from country-code top-level domain (CCTLD) holders. Most CCTLD's such as "NL" for the Netherlands and "IQ" for Iraq are operated independently, but they rely on ICANN to maintain their place in the DNS. Among the votes taken on Thursday was for an increase in these "dues," and it too passed.
In an Associated Press article, CEO Lynn attempted to impart a blue-sky image on this change as well, but in the process revealed what may be a disturbing new twist in ICANN's role on the Internet. Lynn claims that the foreign CCTLD money will be used to address issues like last Tuesday's attack on the DNS root.
In the past, responsibility for Internet infrastructure security has been shared between service providers and government. The recent denial-of-service attack on the DNS has thus far been handled by the root server operators themselves - which include NASA and the University of Maryland - and federal entities like the FBI and White House. If ICANN is able to shoulder in on such public security issues, it will infest them with the same selfish and secretive games it has played all along.
Should ICANN move to exploit its considerable power in new ways in the name of security, or be given any influence in Internet infrastructure policy, its actions will certainly run counter to public interests. We may find domain names being seized, ISP's being coerced, and even more policies shifting under our feet with no public debate. This must not be allowed to happen. Keep your eyes on ICANN, and check back with 2600 for the latest news as this story unfolds.