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Milton Mueller on governmental flap over .xxx domains

Milton Mueller on governmental flap over .xxx domains
Milton Mueller on governmental flap over .xxx domains

[I think Milton wrote this before seeing the Bush administation's
letter, based only on the GAC letter posted earlier
( I'd 
imagine it would be even more pointed now. --Declan]

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: 	ICANN GAC letter on .xxx
Date: 	Mon, 15 Aug 2005 23:36:54 -0400
From: 	Milton Mueller  
To: 	declan


The screed below is all I have to say on the subject. Posted on
ICANNWatch but I hope you can post to your list. 

For those of you who hate ICANN, the flap over the "recall" of the .xxx
domain ought to give you an idea of how much worse the alternative is.
And will be.

You've got to know something is terribly wrong with governments - with
governments as governments - when Brazil, France and the Bush
administration agree on something this silly and arbitrary. And agree
they did. They agreed to turn the Internet's domain name administration
into a political football and milk it for all the political capital they
could, without giving the public the tiniest benefit. They agreed that,
five years after the idea of a .xxx domain was first proposed, we needed
"more time" to consider it. Just as ICANN seemed to be bringing some
rationality and impartiality into its selection of top level domains,
they agreed to trash all pretense of having a defined process and
objective criteria and turn it all into a game of behind-the-scenes pull
and last-minute reversals based on arbitrary assertions of power. 

This situation requires the skills of a professional satirist, not those
of a leaden-prosed academic like me. But let me do my best, because no
one else seems to appreciate how mind-numbingly stupid the politics
around ICANN and Internet governance have become. 

Let's begin with a big "Thank you!" to the government of Brazil. For
more than a year you and other developing countries inspired us with
your principled stance on the need for legitimacy and the need for
governments, as "representatives of the people" to assert their proper
role in the formation of Internet policy. And now you've shown us
exactly how you'd use that power if you got it. And boy, aren't we
excited!! I bet every sober-minded, moral person in the world is
thrilled to know that we will purge the Internet of pornography by
stopping the creation of an .xxx domain. Until now, I confess, I did not
properly understand that there wasn't any porn on the Internet until ICM
Registry proposed an .xxx domain. Now, however, it is clear to me that
if we stop this domain, we will be striking a powerful blow against
online filth -- won't we? If we refuse to publicly recognize that there
is pornography on the Internet it won't exist, will it? Gosh, why didn't
we think of this before? Before now, the problem of global censorship
seemed so....hard! It's such a relief to know that all we have to do is
smash some convenient symbolic scapegoat and tell an ignorant public how
effectively we are addressing their concerns. (Incidentally, if we smash
.xxx I presume that the next time I visit Rio I can walk two blocks to
my hotel without encountering 27 semi-nude prostitutes?) Thank you so
much, government of Brazil, for your pioneering efforts and creative
policy proposals. I now understand why governments have to be involved
in public policy. Without democratically elected governments, there
would be no one to properly exploit these meaningless symbolic gestures.

And thank you too, Government of France. You've appointed some of the
highest ranking diplomats in the world to handle the Internet governance
issue. Obviously, they are so high-level that they cannot be bothered
with the details of actual Internet governance. No, why should anyone
expect your representatives on the GAC to actually understand and follow
ICANN's TLD processes over a five year period? You are much too
important for that. When governments demand authority then mean just
what they say -- they want authority, they don't want to actually do any
work. Reading RFPs and calls for public comment -- what a dreadful bore!
It is much wiser, is it not, to sit back and let ICANN make a decision,
and then, only then, bring your keen minds into play, carefully weighing
the decision that has already been made and deciding, forcefully like
the closing of a steel trap: "No! We do not like it!" Don't worry your
high-minded selves about the people who spent hundreds of thousands of
dollars carefully following the Request for Proposals that was put
before them, do not bother yourselves about the hours of evaluation and
discussion that went into it. These things are trivial. Like the
government of Brazil and the US, you know a good political target when
you see it. 

Ah, but when it comes to the government of the United States of America,
one can only speak in hushed tones of admiration at the onion-like
layers of hypocrisy that envelop the .xxx recall. Let's start with the
fact that the GAC letter would never have been sent if the US Government
hadn't agreed to let it be sent. And even if it somehow had been sent,
it NEVER would have been put on the front page of the ICANN website
unless there had been....shall we say..."arrangements" made, nods given,
between ICANN staff, key board members and US government officials. So
thank you, USG, for standing up for your principles of "avoiding overly
prescriptive or burdensome regulation" and "private sector leadership."
And thank you for demonstrating what securing "Internet stability"
really means. What could be more secure and stable than a decision
process that consumes several million dollars and five years and then
gets reversed at the last minute by a body that, according to ICANN
by-laws, has no authority to initiate such a recall? How innocent and
callow of me to think that stability had something to do with
well-defined rules and procedures! I did not understand, but now I do:
it is Your strength, Oh Bush, your awesome power itself that guarantees
stability -- and what can better demonstrate that power than a refusal
to be bound by the lilliputian threads of rules and procedure?

Only in the USA can we speak of privatizing the domain name system and
still reserve - to our own government exclusively - the power to choose
the "private" administrators of DNS and to intervene at will in its
decisions. Only in the USA can we somehow get away with publicly
exploiting fears of censorship by China to defend our monopoly on ICANN
and then, at the first real test, use that power to censor the global
domain name system, openly catering to a domestic political
constituency. Only in the USA can the conservative Right criticize ICANN
in one year for NOT creating .xxx, and then mobilize against ICANN in
another year for creating it. And despite all this, the entire country
is still populated with people who bleat, like a herd of sheep, "who
cares if the US has unilateral control of the DNS root, the US is a
benign power that doesn't interfere with things. US good, UN bad...US
good UN baaaaaad." 

The gap, the chasm, that separates the whole rationale for ICANN's
creation and the actual practice of ICANNism by the US government is
becoming so wide that several continents could fall into it and no one
would notice. The bottom line is that we privatized and
internationalized DNS administration precisely because we knew this kind
of nonsense would happen if governments got their hands on it. What we
are learning now is that even the USG, which created the whole bloody
mess and holds it by the short hairs, is unwilling to abide by its
decisions if the Christian Coalition makes enough noise.  A better proof
of the original hypothesis could scarcely be found. 

Dr. Milton Mueller
Syracuse University School of Information Studies 

----- End forwarded message -----
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