December 4, 2006

ICANN: New gTLDs

Filed under: phone — Wendy @ 12:48 pm

The draft report makes welcome progress, but still puts lots of hurdles in the way of new top-level domains.

Since the individual Internet user (as putatively represented by the At-Large Advisory Committee) is not in a GNSO constituency, I’ve been getting up to ask lots of questions. As a general matter, I think ICANN should stay as far from the semantics of domain name strings as possible. Once ICANN sets itself up as arbiter of strings’ “public policy” or “morality,” it seems to me it’s just inviting hold-up to the application process.

Remote Participation: Kieren McCarthy has set up an ICANN aggregate webspace at http://sp.icann.org/; there’s IRC chat at irc.freenode.net#icann ; and webcasts are linked (schedule); ICANN page.

Next up, WHOIS.

October 12, 2006

Spamming the News Cycle: Spamhaus non-story goes viral

Filed under: commons, open, phone — Wendy @ 11:07 am

Google News now shows more than 300 stories about Spamhaus, most about a proposed court order following a district court default judgment.

To me, the most interesting is the meta-story — why the non-event of a proposed order has the blogs scrambling with claims of constitutional crisis and even the notoriously close-lipped ICANN issuing an announcement “in response to community interest expressed on this topic.”

We’re seeing a clash of cultures between tech and law. The tech world, afraid the law will jump to erroneous conclusions and cripple an anti-spam mechanism, is in turn making some quick but wrong assumptions about the legal process. Happily, there’s enough play in both tech and legal systems to correct for both these errors.

On the legal side, we have a process that has so far aired only one side — because the other is challenging the court’s jurisdiction even to hear the case. Spamhaus, based in the U.K., runs widely-used SPAM blacklists. Marketer e360 Insight sued Spamhaus in an Illinois court to be removed from one of these lists, claiming that its legitimate mail was being blocked (in Illinois) due to Spamhaus’s actions. Spamhaus did not defend the suit, asserting that the U.S. courts lacked jurisdiction.

As often happens in such cases of default judgment, the court took at face value the arguments from the party who appeared and asked for a proposed order. The plaintiff then overreached (as is also common), and proposed that ICANN be ordered to deactivate the Spamhaus.org domain name. The court has not yet acted on plaintiff’s proposed order.

Even if the court were to adopt this order, it would be open to challenge from many angles: ICANN is not a party to the lawsuit who can be bound by an injunction; ICANN has no contractual power to order a domain de-activated; Spamhaus challenges the court’s jurisdiction. In short, as some commentators have recognized,
e360’s broad request is far from an enforceable order shuttering Spamhaus.org.

On the tech side, while loss of a domain name would be painful, as a domain may be the key point of contact for an Internet-based organization, it would not actually stop a newly-relocated spamhaus-is-now-here.info from putting e360 on the very same lists.

It’s clear we have a ways to go in reaching cross-cultural understanding. But I’m also thinking of how we can harness similar tech community outrage against other ICANN actions that have real impact, such as the sluggish process of approving new top-level domains and the shrinking of privacy options for domain name registrants.

September 16, 2006

ICANN Selection Committee Meets; GNSO Review Out

Filed under: phone — Wendy @ 7:43 pm

ICANN’s selection committee is meeting in Frankfurt Amsterdam this weekend to choose new Board members, GNSO Council representatives, and interim ALAC members. It’s not really correct to call the group a “nominating committee” as ICANN does, since no membership ever gets to vote to accept or reject their “nominees.” That said, the secretive process has produced some good selections in the past, along with some not-so-good.

In other news from the void, ICANN has finally released the London School of Economics GNSO Review: report and annexes. Unfortunately, it’s only in PDFs that pdftohtml can’t successfully convert to text (strange font or something else?) — so commenting on the report will be more difficult than it should be. [update: poor mechanical OCR here]

I haven’t gotten past the opening “Recommendations,” but there, I’m encouraged by the report’s criticism of ICANN Constituencies — the artificial interest groups of ICANN participation, in which “intellectual property interests” is of equivalent voice to “non-commercial users.” It also makes useful suggestions toward better information dissemination and fixed term-limits for GNSO Councilors. (The GNSO, for those not fluent in ICANNese, is the Generic Names Supporting Organization, the body that’s supposed to make policy (by “bottom-up consensus”) for top-level domain names.)

September 2, 2006

ICANN: When Contract Means Expand

Filed under: phone — Wendy @ 11:13 pm

ICANN has posted proposed registry agreements for the .org, .biz, and .info registries — contracts that would allow registry operators to raise prices arbitrarily or introduce tiered pricing, as well as giving incumbents a nearly-perpetual right of renewal. Strangely, given ICANN’s mission “to ensure the stable and secure operation of the Internet’s unique identifier systems,” the new agreements elevate the registries’ interests above the stability interests of domain name registrants. Under the proposed contracts, registrants would face considerable uncertainty about the future costs of domain name renewal.

I submitted comments, included after the jump.

(more…)

June 25, 2006

ICANN Marrakech backchannel

Filed under: phone — Wendy @ 10:34 am

ICANN is meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, 24 - 30 June 2006. Join the IRC backchannel irc.freenode.net#icannmarrakech, if you’d like to participate remotely. It’s not just like being here, but it’s better than watching the webcast without even virtual company.

April 10, 2006

ICANN: Fighting over Table Scraps

Filed under: law, phone — Wendy @ 1:04 pm

I’ve finally recovered from another ICANN meeting, frustrated as ever. 700 or so people flew halfway around the world to hear canned presentations, dueling-monologue public form sessions, and resolutions that left major issues unresolved, and to gripe in the hallways about how little was being done.

Every time I talked to someone who had been away from the ICANN scene for some time and returned, I heard the same assessment: “It looks just the same as it did N years ago,” for varying values of N. Yet many of us return nonetheless, I because I’m still trying to make ICANN responsive to the public interest.

I’ve been trying to explain why ICANN inspires such vigorous debate and loathing. ICANN is not about big issues. A domain name policy, even a perfect one, isn’t going to cure cancer, or even bring connectivity to rural Africa. It’s no surprise many in the GAC (Government Advisory Committee) complain about the difficulty raising understanding of ICANN issues with constituents who don’t yet have reliable Internet access.

But the big issues are not on the table. Even the big issues of Internet connectivity — bridging digital divides, routing around private or government-imposed obstacles, network neutrality — are not part of ICANN’s mandate or sphere of control. Thankfully. ICANN oversees allocation of IP address blocks, accredits domain name registrars, and decides what new top-level domains will enter the root zone.

Furthermore, most of the functions ICANN oversees “just work.” Even if it doesn’t seem “fair” that MIT has more IP addresses than many countries, by and large, those who need addresses get them. Domain names resolve uniquely. Independently designed protocols interoperate.

We’re fighting over table scraps from a table that wasn’t very well stocked to begin with. The fight for those crusts and bones gets even more vicious when the loaves and steaks aren’t part of the debate, because we can’t trade off more important issues in the bargaining.

The problem is that when it doesn’t “just work,” ICANN’s “bottom-up” process is neither bottom-up nor effective to resolve the problems. Without big issues at stake, much of the general public can’t be bothered to learn all of ICANN’s acronyms and procedures to participate. Those who do are derided as kooks or edge cases. We’re told that the telephone company doesn’t want to hear from its customers (paraphrasing a comment by Board member Veni Markovski).

ICANN’s problem is that the table scraps of issues are still important. Certainly to those who have built businesses in ICANN-regulated industries, most notably domain name registrars and registries. But also to the general public. Lots of issues fall between out-in-the-street-protest important and negligible: the cost of domain names, the availability of domain names and new pools of domain names (TLDs), the ability of trademark claimants to take domain names from prior registrants.

ICANN’s core values refer to the “Internet Community.” That community is not just those with commercial interests, but especially those using the Net to communicate: the new blogger who wants a domain name to hang her weblog; the parent who wants an email address he controls; the critic who wants to criticize a business without having her home address and telephone number made public.

ICANN needs a better way to hear and respond to the public Internet community, but so far, there’s little indication it’s listening. Without the at-large public, this “private-public partnership” looks a lot like a conspiracy in restraint of trade.

March 1, 2006

ICANN Capitulates

Filed under: phone — Wendy @ 9:23 am

In the face of nearly unanimous opposition from the ICANN “constituencies,” the ICANN Board has approved settlement with VeriSign. VeriSign (which had sued ICANN when ICANN forced it to shutter the SiteFinder disservice), learns that lawsuits lead to better contracts (quasi-perpetual hold on .com, complete with datamining and price raises); the domain name registrars and other ICANN participants learn that cooperative behavior is less productive than lawsuits; and the rest of us learn that unless we can foot the bill for lawyers of our own, our voice in the ICANN “policy development process” is meaningless. My tremendous respect for the directors who voted against the settlement.

February 1, 2006

WIPO Crowing Again About “Cybersquatting”

Filed under: phone — Wendy @ 12:41 pm

Most of us would be put off if a court issued a press release cheering the number of prisoners its judges had put behind bars or the number of tenants it had helped landlords to evict. That seems antithetical to the neutral adjudication of disputes, and ethical rules regularly decry such “appearance of bias.” Yet WIPO seems to think it perfectly natural to crow about its arbitrators’ favoritism for complainants against “cybersquatters” in UDRP proceedings. It issued a release that reads like a solicitation for trademark claimants’ business, not a promotion of neutral arbitration services:

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) saw a 20% increase in the number of cybersquatting (abusive registration of trademarks as domain names) cases filed in 2005 as compared to 2004. In 2005, a total of 1,456 cybersquatting cases were filed with WIPO’s Arbitration and Mediation Center. This increase represents the highest number of cybersquatting cases handled by the WIPO Center since 2001….

In the 6,349 decisions they have rendered, WIPO panels have found for the complainant in 5,327 (83.9%) cases.

Now it is not surprising that the World Intellectual Property Organization often aligns itself with intellectual property claimants against those representing the public domain, competition, or non-IP claims. It is disturbing, however, that it expresses this bias while serving as a provider of admistrative panels for the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy. WIPO is ICANN-accredited to provide panelists for what is supposed to be an “impartial and independent” determination of rights to a domain name.

One might already doubt the impartiality of some WIPO panelists, such as those who decided in past UDRP procedings that
bodacious-tatas.com “is obviously aimed at diverting Internet users to log on to the Respondent¬ís site in the erroneous belief that the site in question is owned by the Complainant [Tata Sons Limited]”
and that vivendiuniversalsucks.com “refers to goods or services provided by the Complainant [Vivendi Universal]“. Unfortunately, this release suggests that not only some panelists, but WIPO as the provider responsible for appointing panelists from its lists, has prejudged all respondents as “abusive registra[nts] of trademarks as domain names.”

Small wonder, then, that in administrative proceedings where the complainant chooses the resolution forum, more than 2/3 of complainants have chosen WIPO — a healthy business, at $500-1,250 apiece for WIPO (apart from panelist fees).

December 8, 2005

ICANN: how to listen to the individual Internet user

Filed under: phone — Wendy @ 10:12 am

The recent ICANN meeting in Vancouver touched upon many issues important to ordinary Internet users: privacy in domain name registration; the cost and terms of .com domain names; internationalized domains; introduction of new domain suffixes. But there were few “ordinary Internet users” at the meeting. Few people can roam the globe to keep up with ICANN’s travels, and not many more participate in online forums.

This doesn’t mean that individuals are unaffected by ICANN or uninterested. Collectively, individual users have substantial legal and financial interests in ICANN policies; they are clearly the most numerous affected class. However, they tend to have many diffuse interests, not one sharp connection. Unlike those whose businesses depend on ICANN-related issues, many individuals may not feel their personal stakes justify high-intensity involvement with the ICANN process. How, then, does ICANN listen to those voices?

So far, not well. This question has been plaguing ICANN from the beginning, when it established then tore down an individual voting membership. In place of votes for board seats, it gave at-large parties the ALAC, but ALAC has been struggling to be heard within ICANN and working to get in better touch with the individuals.

Why don’t we hear more from the individual Internet users? First, we should dismiss the impulse to say “if they don’t speak up, it must not matter.” It matters to the individual if her web-hosting-plus-domain-name package increases in price without changing in service offered; it matters to the individual if he can’t register a domain name for his weblog without making his address and telephone number public; it matters to the (non-U.S.) individual if she can’t type domain names in her native character set. But all these users all have other demands on their time, and we need to convince them it’s worth their time at least to tell ICANN/ALAC about their concerns. To do that, we need to be able to say that ICANN is listening — Not necessarily that every concern will lead to a change in policy, but that the aggregated concerns will at least inform policy discussions and form part of the “consensus” that’s supposed to guide ICANN policy.

At the moment, I can’t honestly encourage groups to join ALAC structures, but I can ask that they speak up so we can tell ICANN what it’s failing to hear.

I speak as an individual, and not for ALAC.

December 2, 2005

ICANN: What’s in the DOC analysis of the Verisign agreement?

Filed under: phone — Wendy @ 3:04 pm

At ALAC’s meeting with the ICANN Board, in response to criticism of the price increases built into the Verisign settlement agreement, Paul Twomey suggested that the 7% annual increase had been blessed by U.S. regulators. He said, for the first time, that ICANN had asked the Department of Commerce, which had referred the question to the Department of Justice for competition analysis. The same report was claimed as justification at the public forum the next day.

If these reports are going to be used as a basis or justification for ICANN action, they should be disclosed to the ICANN public. If not, a FOIA request will be in order.

See also John Levine’s notes.

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