Forget about Gore and Bush: ICANN's first global online election will rock the world
THE FIRST TRULY GLOBAL online election is taking place this week for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Internet's governing body. The decisions made by ICANN will ultimately affect every Windows and Internet user for years to come.
Internet policy management was transferred in 1998 from universities to ICANN by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The Commerce Department owns the Internet's central or "root" server, which determines which other servers around the world are recognized.
ICANN officials say their organization has no official power. But they know this is nonsense. The Commerce Department's contract with ICANN gives that organization the power to make policy regarding the root server. In turn, ICANN accredits registrars only after they sign legal contracts binding them to obey future ICANN rulings. When you register a domain name, you agree to abide by ICANN, too. (You may not have read that part before you clicked OK.)
Years ago, nations created the Law of the Sea to govern valuable ocean resources. Similarly, ICANN is now creating a "Law of the Internet" via its contracts.
As a result, the Internet is acquiring the legal status of a sovereign nation with its own laws and customs. Unfortunately, the Internet is a new nation that lacks a Bill of Rights.
More than three-fourths of ICANN's directors have ties to firms with financial interests affected by Internet policies. This doesn't make them evil people, but it does mean they rarely vote against their wallets.
Limited expansion: The most important task given to ICANN was to expand the Net beyond today's inadequate TLDs (top-level domains), such as .com, .net, and. org. Rapid growth has created a need for unlimited new domains, such as united.airlines, united.vanlines, united.grocers, and so on.
But ICANN has dragged its feet. Some interest groups, heavily over-represented on the board, profit from the current artificial scarcity of domain names. ICANN plans to allow a mere handful of new TLDs.
Reverse hijacking: ICANN has created a domain-name dispute policy that elevates trademark rights far above the time-honored rights of fair use and parody. Most such disputes are now ruled on by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
WIPO is nominally a U.N. agency. But, unlike other U.N. organs, it isn't funded primarily by nation-states. Instead, 85 percent of WIPO's revenue comes from corporations that pay for a global trademark and patent protection system it runs.
In what has become known as "reverse hijacking," WIPO arbitrators have shut down the sites of legitimate companies and nonprofit groups that committed no crime but offending well-heeled plaintiffs.
Election irregularities: ICANN set up only a minimal server to handle voter registration for its first election of directors. Predictably, when hundreds of thousands of Internet users tried to register, many or most of them received only error messages. ICANN had not designed scalability into its server.
ICANN's staff then ran several days late in mailing voters their personal "activation" codes. Partly as a result, over half of the 158,000 people who did manage to register never got "activated" by the deadline. They now cannot vote in this week's election.
Board self-preservation: ICANN's directors changed their bylaws in July, deleting the requirement that nine of the 19 seats be elected by Internet users. Now only five will be elected for certain.
Due to these and other problems, this week's election is crucial. ICANN's incompetent staff and its specious legal counsel need to be replaced, and soon. But the existing board will never reform the staff unless truly public-spirited directors are elected.
The candidates' qualifications are available at Web sites such as www.cdt.org/icann-election, www.cyber-federalist.org, icbtollfree.com/icbsurveycandidates.html, and www.apc.org/english/rights/governance.
I've also interviewed references in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
Under ICANN's "instant runoff," voters will rank candidates in their region in 1-2-3 order. If your first choice is eliminated, your vote goes to your second choice, and so on.
If you registered to vote, my recommended candidates (in 1-2-3 order) are: In North America, Karl Auerbach, Barbara Simons, and Lawrence Lessig; in Europe they are Jeanette Hofmann, Andy Mueller-Maguhn, and Alf Hansen; in Asia/Pacific they are Johannes Chiang, Sureswaran Ramadas, and Jong Jie Li; in Latin America they are Raul Echeberria, Ivan Mouracampos, and Patricio Poblete; and in Africa they are Nii Quaynor, Alan Levin, and Calvin Browne.
Go to members.icann.org to vote between Oct. 1 and Oct. 10. Voting ends midnight GMT. Let's rock the vote.
Brian Livingston 's latest book is Windows Me Secrets (IDG Books). Send tips to email@example.com. He regrets he cannot answer individual questions.