Sunday, December 04, 2005

Most of the Rest of the World

Dr. Professor Peng Hwa Ang rebuts Claudia Rosett's accusations that the UN is trying to take over the Internet at Pajamas Media. Or rather he doesn't deny it but says 'why not'? Excerpts:

Choose now this day whom to trust. ...

It is important to note that the United Nations is not Kofi Annan. Neither is it 10, 20 or 30 countries. It is an institution made up of almost all the countries on the planet that has done good work on healthcare, education, development etc. I speak not from the experience of someone in Singapore because the UN is invisible to many in Singapore, but from talking to others in the region. The oil-for-food programme, as Mr Annan admits, should not have come under the UN. But I can understand why it did. Only the UN has the credibility as a third-party to be acceptable by Most of the Rest of the World (MRW). ...

Given the choice—trust the US or trust the UN—unlike Ms Rosett from the USA, MRW (Most of the Rest of the World) chose the latter.

Excellent. Professor Peng and the UN should forthwith set up their own DNS system. Why ask for the turnover the untrusted American one? It's damaged goods. Since MRW trusts the UN then DNS servers should begin pointing to the UN system, since the greater trust will -- must -- be reflected as value.

Comment

I wouldn't hold my breath.

53 Comments:

Blogger Steve Skubinna said...

I can't imagine who Professor Peng expects to convince. Why should residents of the US "trust" the MRW? Why should it even matter to us if they trust the internet run by ICANN? And finally, the United "Nations" is nothing of the sort, in that it does not represent me, or any other citizen of this planet. I never voted for Kofi Annan or any other UN functionary. We can talk about taxation without representation another time.

The UN represents itself, and answers to the governments that fund it, and to nobody else. I find the Professor's argument entirely unconvincing, and suspect that the typical recipient of UN largesse doesn't care either. So far, nobody has demonstrated that the Internet will function better, or be more transparent if run mby the UN.

12/04/2005 10:54:00 PM  
Blogger sam said...

Bio on Ang:

Dr. Ang researches and teaches media law and policy with a special emphasis on the Internet. A former journalist with a Singapore daily and a qualified lawyer, his research covers legal and policy issues in the media on such areas as copyright, media self-regulation, and free speech and censorship.

He is on the main board and advisory council of the Internet Content Rating Association. He has also consulted for organisations in Europe and Asia, including local ones.

Ang Bio

12/04/2005 11:58:00 PM  
Blogger Robert Schwartz said...

Singpore is a authoritarian government that has no conception of free speech. Mr. Peng wants to know whom we should trust. MRW in his terminology consists of people who have no trustworthyness at all. Would I trust Singapore. Not for a second. France? Never! the UN? No farther than I could throw the d@mned building.

Here is an idea for Mr. Peng. Trust US. You have to. If you can't, the Malay will invade and slaughter you in your beds. If you can't trust US the Indonesians will shut the Straights of Malacca to your shipping and you will all starve.

As for US, we will continue to trust in God.

12/05/2005 12:02:00 AM  
Blogger The Wobbly Guy said...

Nah, we understand free speech just fine. What's just as important to remember is that loose lips sink ships too. In a small nation with no natural resources and no fallback, there's no room to try anything funny.

And note: he does not speak for the rest of Singapore, and even though my first guess is that most people would prefer the UN, it's because they don't quite understand the underlying concerns involved.

Wretchard is completely correct to say that if people don't like it, they can set up their own system. If it's really better, people will go to it. But the state has become so pervasive in our lives that people cannot understand the importance of competing systems.

Don't worry about it, there's a sucker born every minute.

12/05/2005 12:18:00 AM  
Blogger Cardozo Bozo said...

If the UN did take over ICANN somehow, is there anything that could stop MIT from setting up their own DNS server? (And I'm not sure who would do it first, MIT or Wall St).

That's not a rhetorical question, by the way. I'm really not familiar with the technology. Wretchard's post seems to suggest that MIT could set one up though.


Steve,

You didn't vote for the Supreme Court or 98+ of the Senators and none but one of the Reps in Congress either, but they're still your government. They were appointed / elected by Constitutional means. The Treaty that binds the USA to the UN was also passed in a Constitutional manner. In that sense you are a 'citizen' of the United Nations, however much you may dislike that (I detest it, personally).

As for the UN serving it's own purposes, well yeah, that's "public choice theory" in a nutshell. Applies to the US bueacracy too. The UN's problem is that it's ALL beuaracracy, so there isn't even a couple elected guys at the top like the US and other democracies do.

It's a lot like J.K. Rowling's Ministry of Magic in that way :-)

12/05/2005 12:39:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Sure does bring out the primal urge to tell Dr. Peng Hwa Ang where to shove "MRW."
---
Does anyone have any links on the Iraq Domain the Doctor whines about?

12/05/2005 01:09:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

"UN" and "credibility" in the same sentence.
Gotta hand it to the guy.

12/05/2005 02:11:00 AM  
Blogger Peter UK said...

The first words out of the mouths of those who are about to rob you is,"Trust Me".

This is straight down the line Socialist Nationalisation or rather Internationalisation,ironically by an organisation which represents the biggest crooks on the planet.

12/05/2005 02:53:00 AM  
Blogger enthymeme ∙ said...

"Would I trust Singapore. Not for a second."

Apparently the US does. Your nuclear prepped CVBG's are routinely docked at Changi Naval Base in Singapore.

"If you can't trust US the Indonesians will shut the Straights of Malacca to your shipping and you will all starve."

Don't be an idiot. The Indonesian Navy has neither the will nor the capability. The RSN owns the Straits.

As for Professor 'Peng', he probably should properly be called Professor Ang. He changed the ordering format of his name in order to preclude confusion, thereby causing more confusion.

12/05/2005 03:32:00 AM  
Blogger tide211 said...

Wow, The porn industry, gambling industry, anarchists and jihadists all trust the current domination of the internet by ICANN.

Upon reviewing Dr. Pheng H. Ang's bio it becomes apparent he publishes and specializes in policy, regulation, and perception. Great! Another functioning, thriving entity beat into the ground by ‘policy’.

In Dr. Ang’s article he states:
“Does the choice of Tunis as the site for WSIS reflect a bias towards censorship?
Tunis was chosen because it is regarded as one of the best run Arab countries. It was Tunisia who spoke on behalf of the Arab countries in putting ICT for development on the agenda back in 1998. For bringing this to the attention of the world, Tunis was given the honour of being a host country.” (Source: http://osm.org/site/articles/20051204angpenghwa )

Tunisia, one of the ‘best run Arab countries’ shows its lack of trust of the US dominated Internet by blocking websites, and arresting citizens based upon opinions posted on the Web. A simple google is all that is necessary to find this out… unless you live in Tunisia.

12/05/2005 03:49:00 AM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The DNS is essentially a directory service. There is no physical or economic reason why some other organization, like the UN can't publish their own rival directory. The real question is why they don't. And it's because the current directory is trustworthy hence no clear incentive to change. There's no inherent reason anyone should trust the US; that lack of a natural adantage or monopoly means 'trust' is based on track record. The instant the ICANN undermines reliability trust will be lost and the directory will be debased and simultaneously create a need for a competitor or replacement.

If, as Professor Peng claims, Most of the Rest of the World wants to shop at Kofi's and not at ICANN's because MRW trusts Kofi, then the UN need only publish their directory -- create their own DNS -- for the MRW to switch their root server calls to the UN system. But since the UN system will be a 'governed' system it will be a more constrained directory than the current DNS. A thinner phonebook, so to speak and the market unattractiveness of that thinner phonebook relative to the thicker one is why the UN won't dare set up the rival system. Instead, having declared their store is better than ICANN's they proceed to do nothing but march up to the 'inferior' store and demand the keys and title. It's grotesque. To understand how grotesque the UN demand is, read this technical note.

12/05/2005 04:17:00 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

It's "trivial" to set up your own DNS root. There are ALREADY multiple alternate DNS roots out there. For the official DNS root, ICANN operates only one of the 13 DNS root servers, others are operated by various organizations ranging from the US DOD NIC to a consortium of (mostly) Japanese organizations.

The big thing about ICANN is policy, things like, which if any, new top level domains are created, what policies and mechanisms to handle disputes over domain names, etc. If ICANN were to be replaced by someone else, there's no reason that the actual servers would need to be changed.

What I've been worried about, more than DNS, is that ICANN (via its sub-organization, IANA, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) also manages IP addresses. Public IP addresses are a lot more fundamental than DNS names, which are merely "pretty" ways of looking up IP addresses. If you don't have an IP address, you aren't on the Internet. Imagine if IANA (or some successor authority), decides that Taiwan, for example, doesn't need any IP addresses and reassigns them to China...

12/05/2005 04:24:00 AM  
Blogger EddieP said...

I say to Dr. Angst - Trust us or build your own. You want China, Iran, Syria, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, etc. controlling access and content? Be my guest, but count me out.

12/05/2005 04:37:00 AM  
Blogger ntk said...

The root servers (a through m.root-servers.net) are authoritative for every single top-level and country domain (com, net, org, mil, us, au, it, de, ch and what-have-you).

Now country domains are self-explanatory; de is Germany's domain, so the German govt, or its appointed internet body, should make the decisions, same for every other country. However, the other (non-country) top-level domains (com, net and org, in particular) could be construed as being of global importance.

What I'm trying to say, is that even if the US definitively settles the debate on the hosting of the root zone (and hey, some of the root servers are physically hosted outside the US anyway, as I recall), what about the authoritative machines for the "globally important" top-level zones like com and net? As I recall, the first ".net" domain was nordu.net, which is not a US thing (scandinavian university network, or something, as i recall). So using that as an example, net is of global importance. Com, without a doubt, definitely is.

Can we expect a challenge for "international control" of those zones as well? Maybe not, but it's something worth anticipating. Arguably, control of com and net is more important than control of the root zone - you could, with a bit of work (say, if you were a network admin) maintain a nameserver such that you didn't need to ever query the root servers (you would, however, have to be on the ball in keeping your own "root zone replacement file" up to date, assuming you couldn't actually query the root from time to time, but you could quite easily organise a public forum in which to announce gTLD and ccTLD changes so admins can keep up).

In short, control of com and net is way more important than control of the root, in my opinion.

12/05/2005 04:59:00 AM  
Blogger sirius_sir said...

Wretchard,

Professor Peng has perfectly stated the case, and so have you.

Let the UN set up it's own DNS system and let the world choose whom to trust.

12/05/2005 06:32:00 AM  
Blogger sunguh5307 said...

This shouldn't be a blame-Singapore thing, as others have mentioned they probably don't have a real appreciation for free speech. Those who do have the opportunity to leave and do otherwise. That doesn't mean we can't be friends especially with the current situation in that neck of the woods.

No, but I do think a brave politician or spokesman could profit by exposing the hypocrisy of these claims. Exposing the 'victim industry' that people like this rely on to justify themselves at home, blaming those abroad. This internet thing is cheap agitprop- if it works for them the payoffs would be great, if not then it just makes us do backflips trying to embarrassingly explain why not. Money well spent, even if there is no expected actual return to claims of Internet control. The UN and other institutions can't operate without this 'guilt dividend', if you will, funded my our 'multilateralist' brethren. Screw 'em.

12/05/2005 06:40:00 AM  
Blogger Ash said...

It is possible for ICANN to cut off the top level domain of Iran isn't it? Is it possible for Iran to simply set up their own servers and get back on the net? Could they be cut off?

12/05/2005 07:12:00 AM  
Blogger Lupin3 said...

While it is true that there are multiple DNS roots and root servers, even root zones, practically speaking there is only one root zone that matters - it is this root zone (and specifically, the root server in that system administered by ICANN) that we refer to when we speak of the "internet" or the web.

This is far and away the largest, most used and most valuable root zone in existence, and a great deal of it's value derives from it's large size. To break it up, to balkanize it, reduces it's value considerably. Since each root zone determines the correlation of root servers to ip addresses, duplicating root zones (as far as I understand) creates independent root servers which can only communicate within a single root zone, not across them. This creates multiple independent internets which do not map to each other.

Imagine not being able to email the EU from the US, or China from India. Or not being able to access a unified front end for a web site.

Now, certainly it will be possible to map a relationship on a higher level between root zones, but this leaves us very much where we started; we will have simply added another layer of complexity over the current DNS system. Ultimately, that map system will still need to be administered, and so controlled, by some organization.

So certainly the UN could establish it's DNS root zone, or even root server(s) within the existing zone, but this would have little meaning independent of the root server administered by ICANN.

12/05/2005 07:16:00 AM  
Blogger sirius_sir said...

OT, but Norm Geras posts a story about interesting developments in Fallujah: Here

12/05/2005 07:22:00 AM  
Blogger Sardonic said...

I'm not so sure that the suggestion that the UN set up its own DSNs is a great solution. The Internet and its functionality have become mission critical for advanced civilization and to split it into separate Information Universes could severely mitigate its usefulness over time.

My understanding is that the issue is that were the UN (and/or other countries) to follow this advice, then we would have two (or more) Internets, and a situation where typing in a URL in one country could bring you to a different site than another the same URL typed in another country. This fragmentation of the Internet could not result in a better system, or a better world.

One of the chief (political) benefits of the Internet to the world community is the successful transmission of ALL Ideas to anyone with a computer, ISP and browser. This benefits people in countries where there Tyrants control the media and only allow their citizens to see "the official" view of world events. North Korea and other countries of that ilk come to mind.

What the UN seems to be advocating is different Internet, perhaps? One where the UN decides what is allowed or not allowed on the Internet?

I suggest that it is the UN's plan (or lack thereof?) that should be analyzed, discussed on its merits (or lack thereof) and disgarded on the grounds that the UN "Plan" is stupid if that is what is concluded by a rational inspection of their proposal. It must be shown what the effects of the UN "Plan" would be, were it to be executed. Some questions I would want to have answered would be: How would the UN-Internet be governed? What would be better or worse about it? What do they feel the problem is with the current system exactly? Would they implement political control of content? How would that control work, and what organization would review and determine what is acceptable on the Internet, and how would these determinations be applied? What would be the process by which they could change the rules for Internet Governence? Who would preside over that process? Who would benefit, who would lose? Etc. In other words I would want to see a breakdown of the techncial implementation details along with political considerations described in a methodology that allows for comparison to the current system. Then I would want to compare these answers (to be obtained from the UN representatives promoting this project) to the current system and derive conclusions.

In this way we could actually have a definitive discussion of the merits of the plan (if there are any). If it turns out that the UN "Plan" has no merit, or they can not answer these questions because they didn't think about them (have they?), that would be revealed, the people responsible for promoting it shamed, and the topic can be put to rest, while we glean potentially useful information as to how to improve the current system based on feedback from the process of analysis. Or consider a migration to the UN Plan if it actually does make sense and would improve the system, which is also conceivable.

The current discussion, without this analysis, only serves to buy the UN time to continue to politically undermine the credibility of the current system, which they do just as Peng has done - with inuendo and propaganda suggesting that the US, in "controlling the Internet", is somehow "up to no good", and advocate their own (senseless?) "solution" to the (non-existant?) "problem" of US ownership of the Domain Servers, and pitting the US against the MRW which is itself absurd.

A serious Technical discussion of the actual issues in detail, with a summary overview, would go a long way toward creating a rational debate and useful conclusion. Since it may not be possible for the UN to actually conduct such a rational discussion (being a political, not techncial entity), perhaps it is something that we should take upon ourselves. I assume, somehow, that our Technologists are doing so as I write. I hope.

My estimation is that once the Internet has been split it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to undo the change, politically speaking.

And all the kings horses, and all the kings men could never put humpty dumpty back together again.

12/05/2005 07:33:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

I suspect that if you examined all of those good works by the U.N. the professor so offhandedly cites you would find it was not the truly the U.N. at all.
How many improverished/Totalitarian/Socialist members of the U.N. (80% plus of the membership) truly have answered the call for help? Or even would have thought it up had they had the chance?

12/05/2005 07:56:00 AM  
Blogger Lupin3 said...

Most of the debate on control of ICANN's root server revolves on the concern that the US might take some unilateral action against another country's internet presence. This is a valid, though unlikely, concern.

However, one can also consider the reverse argument. If ICANN has the ability to summarily remove a nation's (or business's, or government's, and in some cases a military's) domain name mapping and more significantly, ip addressing, so to would the UN.

This is significant when one observes the discrepancies in current online privacy law between the US and the EU, for example. From a high level, in Europe consumers are protected by law from the exploitive use of their personal data so familiar to us in the US. On the other hand, the US protects it's citizens (and it's ISPs) from itself - or rather, from it's government.

It would be a trivial matter for an organization which controls both domain name mapping and the assignment of ip addresses to impose it's own policy upon internet service providers. The EU might lobby the UN, for instance, to establish a mandatory window of time during which all users data must be collected and retained - perhaps using terrorism as a catalyst. Internet Service Providers would be notified of the policy change, and penalties enacted, up to and including the termination of the ISP's right to assign ip addresses, for failure to comply.

This would effectively put the Internet Service Provider out of business, since they can no long provide such a service.

Clearly, this suggests a much greater scope than simply the complexities of mirrored dns mapping, for which control of ICANN would hardly be required.

12/05/2005 08:07:00 AM  
Blogger doolz said...

The idea of Resolutions without resolve propagated by soulless bureaucrats replacing Requests For Comment open to all corners of the geekiverse leaves me unsure whether to laugh uproariously or to vomit.

The UN could never have created Arpanet, never mind WWW (that was atomic scientists), it's vastly inefficient, corrupt, and pompous. The internet is continously evolving, and society is transformed along with it. Under UN censorship and manipulation it would stagnate, although chances are that whatever digital roadblocks they erected would end up bypassed by half-smart 14 year olds within weeks.

12/05/2005 08:10:00 AM  
Blogger Aristides said...

Only the UN has the credibility as a third-party to be acceptable by Most of the Rest of the World (MRW). ... Given the choice—trust the US or trust the UN—unlike Ms Rosett from the USA, MRW (Most of the Rest of the World) chose the latter.

That is the argument.

The premises are 1)only the UN has credibility as third party, and 2)MRW trust the UN more than the US. Which leads to the conclusion 3)the UN should control the internet.

One suspects that credibility here means malleable ethics (or undiscerning moral valuation), for if the good Dr. was using "credibility" in the normative sense the first premise is absolutely, objectively false.

The second premise is just meaningless. If drug-users trust their dealers more than the police, does that mean we should transfer enforcement of the justice system to drug dealers? Of course not.

MRW trust the UN because the UN's ethics are malleable enough to be everything to everybody. MRW trust the UN because they recognize it; when they look at the UN they see themselves.

From Dr. Ang's own mouth, the issue is not a practical one like performance or efficiency. The issue is that the UN has some valuable characteristic that the US does not, a valuable characteristic that leads MRW to trust the UN. If you think the distinction lies in the UN being a third party, you need to look a little deeper.

In Batman Begins, most of the rest of the police (MRP) were suspicious of Lieutenant Gordan not because he was dirty--they were all dirty. Gordan wasn't trusted because he was clean.

This is what Dr. Ang's argument boils down to: For us to accept that the UN is more trustworthy we would have to actively forget everything we know about the word "trustworthy".

Only in bizarro world does honesty make you untrustworthy, and theft make you credible. Dr. Ang's argument says, "Welcome to bizarro world."

12/05/2005 08:28:00 AM  
Blogger Annoy Mouse said...

I am not surprised that Ash is concerned that the US may cut off the Iranian people when everybody but the moon bat left knows that it is the Mullahs who are cutting off content to the Iranian people. Jeesh.

12/05/2005 08:43:00 AM  
Blogger Ash said...

annoy mouse,

If it is indeed true that the US could unilaterally cut off a country of its choice from the internet it is perfectly understandable why the rest of the world would like to see that power changed, especially in light of the US's current propensity to abandon its priniciples when confronted with perceived threats.

12/05/2005 08:53:00 AM  
Blogger Kyda Sylvester said...

I would argue that the US is the most inherently trustworthy nation in the history of nations. We can be trusted to act in our own best interests. And when those "best interests" are modulated by internal/external political pressures, as they all too frequently are, we're such an open society that our political pulse should be fairly easy to take.

In this case, it is in our best interests to retain control of the internet. Oddly enough, as often happens, that is also in the best interests of the internet and its world-wide community.

In other words, and, as it happens, to the collective good, we built it, we own it, we're keeping it. And the UN, along with Professor Ang and everyone else who agitates for UN control, can sod off.

12/05/2005 09:01:00 AM  
Blogger John B said...

Re: "Given the choice—trust the US or trust the UN—unlike Ms Rosett from the USA, MRW (Most of the Rest of the World) chose the latter.

There is my joke of the day. MRW is mainly comprised of third world dictatorships, usually corrupt and all with a disregard for the concept of human rights.

The professor does have a sense of irony however: "Tunis was chosen because it is regarded as one of the best run Arab countries."

CBC Radio last week ran a story on this topic and covered the meeting in Tunisia. They also covered the censorship and imprisonment of journalists - including Europeans who were arrested and released only after they surrendered their videotapes of anti-govermnent demonstrations. Since Tunisia "was chosen because it is regarded as one of the best run Arab countries" - well that statement says a lot.

12/05/2005 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger Red River said...

Everyone misses the point here.

The UN wants the store because it wants the money.

Money that would come from Taxing the Internet.

If they set up their own DNS, but there were competing ones, then how can they charge for something that is free?

If you don't pay your DNS tax, then they auction it off. Or they want to "review" your business plans.

Furthermore, I don't know that the UN control of the Internet would lead to repression - it might lead to chaos. I could see shadow DNS systems springing up.

12/05/2005 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger Nathan said...

If it is indeed true that the US could unilaterally cut off a country of its choice from the internet it is perfectly understandable why the rest of the world would like to see that power changed, especially in light of the US's current propensity to abandon its principles when confronted with perceived threats.

On the other hand, does the UN have any principles to begin with?

12/05/2005 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger Huan said...

The UN has no accountability, thus cannot and must not be trusted.

12/05/2005 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger sirius_sir said...

If it is indeed true that the US could unilaterally cut off a country of its choice from the internet...

I love this line of argument, not. (If it is indeed true that spaceships are visiting us daily...)

But here's the thing, ash. Maybe the US could unilaterally cut off part of the internet. Maybe the US could shut down CBS, ABC, and NBC too. It could happen, but in all liklihood it won't--for a variety of reasons. So you can probably relax and start breathing again.

12/05/2005 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger Ash said...

Sirius Sir,

Isn't US opposition to the ICC based on similar reasoning? Opposition to the ICC because it would entail a loss of sovereignty for the US is similar to *pick a nation*'s exposure to their loss at the discretion of the US.

12/05/2005 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger sirius_sir said...

ash,

Other countries can participate or not in either venture. No-one's forcing anybody to do anything. (Although, in the case of the ICC there are those who would certainly like to.)

Free choice, you know.

12/05/2005 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger sbw said...

As one with a lifetime of experience in journalism, I'd like to remind readers of the attempts of United Nations agencies to install a new information order that, underneath all the sweet sounding platitudes would have given authorities the power to put a free press under the boot heel.

Now, why should I be suspicious about this? I wonder.

12/05/2005 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger Norman said...

IPV6 is being pushed as a replacement IPV4. It has a much larger address space for IP numbers (such as 209.219.43.32), which are soon expected to be in short supply. Japan appears to be in the forefront. It is backwards compatible in that he recognizes the existing numbers.

But I wonder how this figures in the push for the UN to control DNS.

More info available here

12/05/2005 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

Perhaps everyone can factor in a stated but little acknowledged component of the internet. The military was the creating force in the setup of the net (DARPA), how would they deal with having their data paths regulated by the enemy. Not too well I imagine.

12/05/2005 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger Aristides said...

If it is indeed true that the US could unilaterally cut off a country of its choice from the internet it is perfectly understandable why the rest of the world would like to see that power changed...

Would you also make the case that the US armed forces should be under the auspices of the UN, since your core argument obtains (it is true that we could unilaterally destroy a country, and it is perfectly understandable why the rest of the world would want to deny us this power)? If not, why not?

Do you begin to see what is going on?

12/05/2005 12:51:00 PM  
Blogger Ash said...

Aristides,

and the Russians can destroy the world, and the Chinese can destroy the world, and....

I'm all for freedom and a minimum of regulation of the flow of information on the internet. Are we sure that the US will continue to provide this? I stumbled across this article:

Internet Governance Squabble Expected To Hijack U.N. Meeting



"“Security would suffer if we had multiple governments seeking to operate functions of the Internet and the domain name system. That would be a terrible mistake,” he says.

That’s not necessarily true, however, according to one academic. “One risk with having [ICANN] so closely linked to the U.S. is it becomes a target,” says Milton Mueller, an associate professor at Syracuse University and a lead contributor to the Internet Governance Project, a consortium of academics with expertise in international governance, Internet policy, and information technology.

“There’s no reason why similar [existing security] procedures couldn’t be set into place” with a new oversight system, consisting of many governments or even none at all, the scenario he prefers. World governments are challenging ICANN, whose memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Commerce Department expires next September, but public interest groups like the Internet Governance Project have been opposing the organization for years, Mueller says. “We don’t want the Internet to be carved up into national territories,” Mueller says. “We want to keep the Internet global and free and open. The United States is as much of a threat to that as other countries.”

snip

"“That information is controlled by the United States for the whole world,” Mueller says. “The United States could eliminate an entire country code if it wanted to. Nobody’s accusing them of wanting to do that, but it’s a strange feeling for the rest of the world that their existence as a top level domain depends on a unilateral U.S. decision.”

And while few people dispute that oversight from multiple governments would add an unhealthy dose of geopolitics into the mix, it’s naïve to believe that those disputes do not already exist within ICANN, he says.

As evidence, he points to the decision last month to postpone for the second time in as many months a decision on creating a .xxx domain for adult content. The U.S. government stepped in after opposition from conservative lobbying groups."

12/05/2005 01:14:00 PM  
Blogger Annoy Mouse said...

Oh for the love of Pete, give them their goddamn XXX, the rest of us will happy not to have Gay Videos pushed to the top of the stack with our searches for MPEG encoding hardware…

That said, Wretchard nailed it. Let the bastards design and build their own. China and Iran already filter content (thanks to Microsoft and Google). I suppose they have to worry about the US filtering some of their content, perhaps the way they have shut down Al Queda websites that are active information portals for AQ operatives using codes… and Al Jazerra that is overtly anti-US. So you can make an argument that information is filtered from US internet users (so we don’t buy Iranian WMD technology?)… the NSA would still make a case to monitor them anyhow. Can’t monitor them if they don’t publish it. ‘SPose we ought to give them dictators in control of the UN some new-clear tecknowlegy to go wi’t.

12/05/2005 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger Ash said...

annoy mouse, the worry is that political considerations in the US could affect another countries ability to use the internet. Surely you could see the problem for US if the shoe were on the other foot? It is a valid concern.

12/05/2005 01:45:00 PM  
Blogger sirius_sir said...

ash,

The shoe WILL be on the other foot if the UN ends up controlling the internet.

12/05/2005 03:43:00 PM  
Blogger Mannning said...

The US should just say NO!

no further discussion is needed.

12/05/2005 09:15:00 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

If he thinks that the US is doing a bad job, he's free to go back to the technology of 1990, or set up a Net of his own. But it's not something that the UN can just yoink from the US - the fact that people think it's even close to possible is a sign of how little of the world they understand. The US runs it, has no interest in giving it up, and the UN has no ability to take those powers away. It doesn't matter what's "fair", that's what it is.

12/05/2005 10:48:00 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

I'd like to add that I don't have a big problem if ICANN/IANA functions moved to the ITU, as the ITU is primarily a technical body and has a long history of not making very controversial decisions. What would be troubling is if some of the more political or activist organizations in the UN system ended up in control. Moving things into the ITU might be a prelude to that, or might not.

12/06/2005 02:43:00 AM  
Blogger NN said...

It is therefore disingenuous to describe what was done at the [Tunis] Summit as an "internet grab". The US did not have to do an "internet grab" because it already had the internet in its hands. (From Dr. Ang's reply)

I've given up trying to understand this paragraph. Is Dr. Ang saying that the US attempted a power grab in Tunis? The nerve ...

And how about "Most of the Rest of the World" (MRW)? Well, thankyou Dr. Ang, but here's one individual of MRW that you don't speak for. The nerve ...

12/06/2005 02:49:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

sirius_sir said...
ash,
The shoe WILL be on the other foot if the UN ends up controlling the internet.
---
Possible ash responses:
1.duh
2.duh, how silly of me not to see that.
3.but WE would deserve the shoe, nobody else (MRW) does, it is we who must repent.

12/06/2005 03:50:00 AM  
Blogger Lupin3 said...

The more I learn about DNS and ICANN the more I wonder what the point of the criticism is.

The supposition that the US can summarily terminate a nation's internet presence is so naive that it must be beside the point. Any such attack on a nation, even a short-term attack, in order to be effective, would have such a massive effect on the www as a whole as to make it impossible to localize the attack to one nation.

The reasons for this are varied. One is that the internet presence of a nation does not exist as such - rather, every nation consists of a variety of producer and user types, from individuals to companies to schools to governments. Many, if not most, of these users are not necessarily bound to localized IP addresses. Producers can host content anywhere in the world, and there is nothing preventing users from obtaining IP addresses from regional neighbors.

In the event of a root level attack, then, it is likely that the attacked nation's neighbors will seek to profit by providing their IP addresses to the highest paying customer. To defeat this, the attack must expand to encompass these neighbors. The question quickly becomes one of how far the US might go, and to what extent it wished to damage the web as a whole.

Because DNS mapping takes some amount of time, sometimes days, to propagate, such a widespread attack could make the entire web unstable for a significant amount of time. Many of us have read how the internet was developed to withstand a nuclear attack by decentralizing nodes; this however is much less of the world wide web, which exists primarily on ICANN's single root server. Bringing down one top-level domain after another would quickly affect all users, including those in the US.

And while the top-level domain attacks (within ICANN's server) are relatively easy to defeat (or at least to make so costly as to invalidate the effectiveness of the attack) it is not at all impossible to replicate ICANN's administrative functions within a separate root zone. Since the web is routed in a hierarchical, decentralized manner, replacing ICANN within a distinct, but overlapping, network is a much smaller task than might be expected.

So there is no technical reason preventing the UN from developing it's own shadow internet and www, which would seamlessly interface with the real web. And the likelihood of an attack by ICANN(!) is so remote and so ineffective one really begins to wonder what the point of all this is.

I think as Red River suggested, taxes and income are likely near the core of the matter. I still think the possibility of sigint is a real one. Certainly, control is the essence of the issue, and the question is, to what end?

12/06/2005 06:40:00 AM  
Blogger Ash said...

ummmm, doug, the goal is to keep the internet as free and unfettered as possible. A rational approach would be to limit US interference as well.

lupin3,

I too have been puzzled by the feasibility of taking out a countries top-level domain. Certainly blocking the top-level domain and any ips assigned to that country would create havoc but given the ability to route many networks through a handful of public ips technical savvy people could get access to the web pretty quick.

Ultimately a technical oversight committee that can remain independent from political concerns would be ideal. Something like the ITU or other similar body could give us the best chance at independence.

On a side note, I am intrigued by the ‘ethno-centric’ potential of top-level domain assigns. For example, doesn’t .gov route to US government sites? There are a lot of governments in the world.

12/06/2005 07:12:00 AM  
Blogger Lupin3 said...

Ash,

I think the problem is that any single controlling organization will be, by definition, politicized.

Therefore, a decentralized and redundant method, which allows for the involvement of nations to the extent that they wish to, or rather that they work for. Such a method, a kind of "ghostweb" or "shadow-web," is technically feasible now.

Which is why I question the motives of the UN in this regard. Since I'm not sure there are any technical reasons that point to a need for UN control, I suspect that the push is ideological in nature. In other words, that the push originates from the belief of it's supporters that the UN should control it for no other reason than the UN should control it.

They're certainly entitled to that belief, but a merely ideological argument can have no objective resolution. The resolution will either be brute force (in this case, the creation of a shadow-web that supercedes ICANN with or without ICANN's cooperation) or it will be political.

Which brings us to the "ethnocentric" aspects of "the web." The web as we know it was established and primarily developed by the US, though with a great deal of work from Europe and Asia. It is a system designed to meet American needs, primarily funded by American tax-payers. Thus the conservative criticism that "we built it, it's ours." This may be shortsighted, but it contains a grain of truth. Indeed, how else can the attempt by a foreign power to appropriate another nation's technical infrastructure (particularly when the possibility for creating it's own independently clearly exists) be characterized as anything other than ethnocentric?

12/06/2005 01:11:00 PM  
Blogger internet_guy said...

The entire discussion concerning the UN taking over the internet is a bit of a tempest in a teapot. No one can "take over" the internet in the way people are currently assuming. The UN knows this and that is why they're conspicuously NOT proposing to create their own, competitive, root server infrastructure. They are free, of course, to set up their own "internet", and even to use the existing telecom infrastructure in which the UN's "internet" can run side-by-side with the one administered by the US. They won't do this, of course, because no one would use their "internet". The internet, like a lot of things, runs on trust. We all trust the administrators of the DNS root servers so we configure our own local DNS servers to view the US administered root servers as authoritative. If the UN set up their own, competitive, root servers, no one would use them. What they want to do is co-opt the goodwill/trust held by the existing internet for their own ends. Even were they to get "control" of the root servers, millions of site administrators and owners could at will change their local DNS servers to use a root server infrastructure NOT administered by the UN. You cannot control the internet without controlling the telecom pipes. China does a fairly good job of that and routinely chucks freedom loving people in jail as a result. But it's highly unlikely that the UN will take over AT&T, Cox Communications, etc. even were they to take over administration of the DNS root servers. It would be a pain for a while until everyone switched over to new root servers, but it wouldn't be fatal.

12/06/2005 02:13:00 PM  
Blogger Tibore said...

Wanna add to Keith Lowery's post: You can control the pipes by controlling the routers, both at the backbone and downstream to and immediately out of the ISP's who provide last mile connectivity to the end users.

Anyone talking about controlling the internet through controlling DNS is not thinking the notion through thoroughly. Yes, you can influence it heavily if you can determine what the root DNS system recognizes namewise -- very heavily, there's no denying that -- but you cannot actually control it. You can make the internet unfriendly, you can even go out of your way to make things work strangely, but only at the router level can you truly make "block" or "allow" decisions that stick.

Remember: For a while there, name resolution was done with local hosts files, not with DNS servers. It would make life hell, but it *is* possible, albeit extremely difficult and unfriendly, to have an internet without DNS. I wouldn't want to experience it, but it is possible. So I don't think people should think of "controlling" the internet through controlling the root DNS system. The real control is at the level where the packets get routed.

12/06/2005 04:43:00 PM  
Blogger Lupin3 said...

Keith, tibore;

I think you may be underestimating the influence that ICANN and IANA have over the commercial web.

We should distinguish between the internet and the web in discussing ICANN. The internet is a network composed primarily of routers, servers, and cable (or satellites) and is the physical medium over which the web is operated. Of course you realize this, and we can agree that the risk to the internet from ICANN is minimal, even non-existent.

But the target of the UN's proposal, and the subject of ICANN's administration, is not the internet but the web. In this capacity, the role of ICANN is central to the operation of the web. Moreover, through it's ability to assign and distribute IP addresses, the IANA is essential to the operation of the internet as we know it.

And I agree as well that the UN (anyone, in fact) is perfectly capable of creating their own duplicate network. I disagree, however, that no one would use it - in part because I believe it is possible to mirror the domain name mapping performed by ICANN, and for this second network to hook seamlessly into ICANN's. By doing this, ICANN will have been effectively superceded.

Too, I think your points on the importance of the lower-level internet, particularly at the ISP level, are quite valid. What I think you are overlooking is the influence ICANN and IANA could exert over those providers.

For instance, not all that long ago the US government tried to force ISPs to collect and maintain information on all the traffic over their networks for a period of up to five years. The ISPs refused, stating that to do so would create an enormous amount of overhead and expense and that their role was to provide internet service, not to monitor it for the US government. The case went to court, and the US government lost.

However, if the UN were to control ICANN and IANA (as opposed to developing their own network), it would be a simple matter to force the ISPs to cooperate. Either provide the information that say, the Chinese lead lobby in the UN wants, or face the revokation of IP addresses assigned to an ISP. Either the ISP cooperates, or it goes out of business. Certainly the likelihood of such an action is minimal, but it is unlikely to go as far as that in the first place.

Of course, there is the taxation issue as well. Also, there are those who believe that ICANN, by dragging it's feet in the implementation of new technologies (particularly IPv6) is preventing widespread web access across the third world. UN control of ICANN would be a relatively quick and painless means of solving these issues, if they are issues at all.

12/07/2005 06:53:00 AM  

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