We in the Internet Governance Project were astounded to read in Reason that ICANN has been “set free” from the U.S. government (“Internet Unleashed,” January). Contrary to Katherine Mangu-Ward’s article, ICANN has no “private life.” Its early attempt to globalize and privatize Internet governance has failed, both because the U.S. refuses to give up power and because other governments would like a piece of that power.
The new ICANN–Commerce Department agreement, called a Joint Project Agreement (JPA), leaves the basic relationship between the government and ICANN unchanged. ICANN still gets general policy guidance from the Department of Commerce and still regularly reports to it for three more years. There is nothing in the JPA that guarantees an end to the supervisory relationship between the Commerce Department and ICANN in 2009.
There is also a separate contract between the U.S. government and ICANN to perform the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions. This agreement is actually more important than the JPA because it gives the government control of any modification of the Domain Name System root. This contract was renewed in August and has not changed. Indeed, the Bush administration has made it clear that it has no intention of giving up its power to dispense the IANA authority. Thus the new agreements do not substantially reduce the level of U.S. government control over ICANN and Internet identifiers.
In one important respect, the JPA actually increased direct U.S. government intervention. If the new agreement were a movie, it might be seen as the sequel to the .xxx domain veto exercised by the U.S. Commerce Department last year. One of the most important issues ICANN is considering at the moment is the relationship between domain name registration data (the Whois service) and individual privacy rights. The new agreement orders ICANN to “enforce existing Whois policy,” which requires that ICANN maintain “unrestricted and public access to accurate and complete Whois information.”
Another recent development has also increased federal regulation of the Internet. In renewing VeriSign’s registry agreement to operate the .com domain, the Commerce Department on November 29 suddenly seized for itself the power to become the ultimate price and service regulator with respect to the .com domain. From now on the Commerce Department—not ICANN’s policy making process—will provide the final word on renewal of the lucrative .com license. This approval power extends into the future indefinitely.
Internet Governance Project and Syracuse University School of Information Studies
Ticking Bombs vs. Ticking Bombast
Jim Henley sets up a straw man (“Ticking Bombs vs. Ticking Bombast,” January) by attacking an idea nobody is actually proposing—that we allow security officials to torture with impunity. No serious, thinking person in a position to influence public policy has suggested anything this lawless, and it’s intellectually dishonest to the point of frivolity to suggest otherwise.
Henley acts as though our society doesn’t already weigh the risks of a wrong decision in the administration of justice, but of course we do this every day. How is torturing somebody based on bad information quantifiably worse, for instance, than imprisoning someone based on the same bad information? We insert due process of law into the sequence of events in order to minimize this risk, but nobody is proposing abolition of the criminal justice system because of the possibility of mistakes.
Yes, torture ought to be offensive to our ideals, and no, we
shouldn’t lower ourselves to the level of our enemies. But I want
to win this war. I’ll gladly return to a life of peaceful
contemplation in furtherance of ideals once I’ve dealt with the
barbarian hordes who are taking a battering ram to my front door.
We’ve had to take desperate measures before as a nation in times of
war, and always the rule of law has returned thereafter. Have a
little faith, people!
The Pinpoint Search
Even the crude technology of the drug-sniffing dog could grossly abrogate my civil rights. It’ll be even worse when the cop on the street gets to use the “pinpoint” search technology described in Julian Sanchez’s article (“The Pinpoint Search,” January). Here’s how:
Let’s say that I’m driving on a public thoroughfare, and that I happen to exceed the speed limit by more than the unofficially tolerated five miles per hour. Let’s say that I am then stopped by a traffic cop who, while writing my citation, applies the new “pinpoint” technology. Let’s also say that the “sniffer” gives the cop a positive reading for marijuana, and that this probable cause leads to an extensive whole-body and whole-car search. In the end, after a couple of very cold and uncomfortable hours, no solid evidence is found other than the original positive reading, so I am released with my traffic citation in hand.
Now, let’s say that I am truly innocent and have never in my life possessed or smoked (or ingested) marijuana. Let’s further say that I had purchased the car in question only a week before from a private party (or even from a dealership), and that this purchase was my only contact with the car’s previous owner. Or let’s say that my car has been in my possession since it was brand new, but that I lent it to my brother-in-law last night. Or let’s say that the car has been mine all along, and I never lent it to anyone, but a druggie used it as a convenient seat while rolling, smoking, and finally snuffing out a “bomber” while it was legally parked during the night.
Without a “pinpoint” search or an easily available drug-sniffing
dog, all I would end up with is the traffic citation I probably
deserved. With those improperly intrusive technologies, however, I
lose time and dignity. I could even end up in court, expensively
fighting an undeserved drug trafficking charge.
I have just read Cheryl Miller’s “Crying Censorship” (January). I am not an expert on art, but I have been a plumber for the last 25 years. In those years, I have “censored” many of pieces of the kind of art described in Miller’s article with a simple jiggle of a handle.
CORRECTION: “Sim Pickings” (Citings, February) identified Dan Miller as chief economist at the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress. His proper title is senior economist.