Web's inventor and MIT prof explain ICANN to Ted Cruz, using small words

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is a corporation that manages one of the critical, centralized pieces of the internet's underlying infrastructure, the domain name system's root.

Historically, ICANN has been under US government authority, but under a longstanding agreement it is due to be turned over to an international consortium for management on Oct 1, something that has incensed Ted Cruz, who has railed against non-US management in domain names because this could enable censorship (something that Cruz is apparently against, some of the time).

But as World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and MIT Professor (and former White House CTO) Daniel Weitzner explain to Senator Cruz in an op-ed, that's not really how internet censorship works. Mostly, net censorship is accomplished with national firewalls (and, I might add, massive armies of trolls for hire and other astroturfers, as well as copyright abuse), and the domain system plays little role in censorship.

The authors argue that keeping ICANN as a US affair won't prevent mass censorship, but it will build the case for moving the net away from the custodianship of multi-stakeholder, technologist-centered groups to a Balkanized state-by-state approach.

They also tell Cruz that he's wrong about who made the net: it wasn't (just) Americans; Berners-Lee is a Briton who was working in Switzerland when he invented the web.

Repressive governments expend a great deal of energy censoring speech online — but they do so entirely without ICANN. Those governments oppress their people the old-fashioned way, by disregarding human rights and undermining the rule of law.

Let’s consider the most egregious threats to free speech and human rights online. Egypt shuts down nearly all Internet traffic during the Arab Spring to disrupt citizen’s right to oppose the government. Pakistan blocks access to entire platforms such as YouTube because they host a few offending videos, with the result that a huge amount of speech is suppressed.

ICANN had no role in these shutdowns nor could it prevent them. Countries such as China and Iran operate large-scale firewalls controlling nearly all of the Internet’s content within their countries and restricting what information can cross the border. ICANN cannot shut down these firewalls. And Russia routinely mounts attacks on web sites of opposition groups inside and outside the country, leading to suppression of democratic discourse. ICANN has no role in preventing this kind of hacking.

Ted Cruz is wrong about how free speech is censored on the Internet [Tim Berners-Lee and Daniel Weitzner/Washington Post]

Notable Replies

  1. Ted Cruz is actually a reasonably bright guy...

    ... who happens to be a consummate asshole.

  2. Ted Cruz, as davide405 said above, is a bright guy, and actually a brilliant lawyer. ("If only he'd used his powers for goodness and niceness instead of evil!") Words like egregious are no problem to him. Shorter words like DNS and ccTLD and rent-seeking might be, though.

    With all due respect to Esther Dyson, ICANN has been a mess since the beginning, taking over DNS policy from the IETF Ad-Hoc Committee because the Trademark Gods weren't happy enough with it, and making hopeless technical mistakes like imposing punycode on us instead of using UTF-8.

    But US Congressional control over ICANN has been hopeless as well - first attempting to impose censorship by requiring everything related to (gasp!) sex to be in a .xxx TLD, and then when somebody tried to register that, going ape and forbidding it, because having a .xxx TLD would imply official recognition that there's (gasp!) sex on the Internetz, which would be horrible and think of the childrenz. And they've occasionally tried to ban anybody having anything to do with "terrorism" from having domain names, and they've treated domain names as assets the FBI can seize before trial when accusing some website owner of politically incorrect drugs or enabling copyright violation whatever.

    Do I want China and Russia and The Magic Kingdom and Foobaristan to be able to censor the DNS system the way various Republicans want to censor it? No, but I suspect freeing ICANN from US government control may reduce that.

  3. Ted Cruz was the valedictorian of his private high school in Texas, won numerous debating awards while at Princeton, was an editor of the Harvard Law Review, called "off-the-charts brilliant" by Alan Dershowitz, and clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

    Yet this is the guy who thinks the UN wants to outlaw the game of golf and force people into hobbit homes :confused:

  4. Demagogue Theocrat Fails to Grok Internet, Would Much Prefer to Simply Ban It and Be Done.

  5. Ted Cruz
    Strength: 9
    Intelligence: 18
    Wisdom: 4
    Dexterity: 6
    Constitution: (only when convenient)
    Charisma: 3

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