Ex- ICANN CEO outrages with 11 September outburst

Uses ICANN election newsgroup

The former president and CEO of Internet overseeing body ICANN, Mike Roberts, has angered members of Internet community including an ICANN director, a well-respected computer scientist and various lobby groups with a political diatribe on the 11 September terrorist attacks, posted on a newsgroup for the At-Large Study group.

Mr Roberts, who was the organisation's first CEO and left his post in March this year, wrote extensively on his feelings towards the attacks and the new terrorism bill that President George W Bush and Congress have just signed.

The newsgroup's purpose is to seek to agree on how many of ICANN's directors should be elected from Internet users. The members felt Mr Roberts had made an attempt to hijack the strong emotions felt over the terrorist attacks to argue that criticism of emerging proposals is out of place and counterproductive.

"Today marked a watershed day in the history of the Internet," his message began. "In some sense, the real date was September 11, when the leadership role of the United States in world peace, in economic development, and in technology innovation was challenged by a group of determined religious fanatics using our own technology on us to cause the death of thousands of innocent people."

He continues: "But the legal date between the 'old' Internet and the 'new' Internet was today, October 26, 2001, when President George Bush signed the anti-terrorism bill that was passed by the upper house of Congress yesterday with one dissenting vote.

"This legislation brings the Internet and its developers, providers and users directly into the new war on terrorism. It extends extensive new power to law enforcement to find, capture, and punish those who use the network for terrorism or other criminal activity. It removes the previous barriers between foreign and domestic anti-terrorism investigations and establishes the principle that whoever you are, wherever you are, if you use the net for terrorism, you are in the sights of the FBI, the CIA, the NSA and their foreign counterparts."

The message quotes from "widely respected columnist Tom Friedman", who is also widely acknowledged as a man who won't let an important point get in the way of a carefully worded tear-jerker.

And here comes the kick

After more personal reflections, Mr Roberts then asks of himself: "So what does this have to do with At Large?" He suggests that restricting dialogue and ignoring criticism is the most appropriate way of reaching consensus on the At-Large question:

"First, don't expect to get the attention of the study committee, your fellow stakeholders in ICANN, the dedicated members of the Board, or the governments whose sanction makes this privatization effort possible, with a continuation of the shallow rhetoric that has characterized the postings on this list.

"Second, think seriously about constructive improvements in the recommendations of the ALSC [At-Large Study Committee]. Nobody cares that you don't like a particular recommendation, they want to know whether you have a better idea, an idea that is good enough to gather the support of a lot of other interested parties that may not share your individual political or social or economic background but are nevertheless interested in the future welfare of ICANN.

"Third, be prepared to compromise your goals in the interests of forging an At-Large organization that contributes to an ICANN that is going to operate in a far different environment than its founders envisaged."

His comments caused recognised authority Bob Frankston to attack Mr Roberts' fundamental assertions and comment: "September 11th hysteria is a poor substitute for reason."

Mr Frankston's comments elicited a response from current chairman of ICANN, Vint Cerf who agreed with Mr Frankston's analysis but stopped short of criticising Mike Roberts.

Not so, ICANN director Karl Auerbach, who said of Mr Roberts' "mediaeval mentality" that "unlike Mr Roberts, I have not surrendered my principles to the terrorists who so heinously attacked our democratic nation last month."

Lauren Weinstein of People For Internet Responsibility, said: "As much as we respect Mike Roberts and his work, it is difficult to find his recent statements, about the 'new ICANN' as anything other than extremely 'problematic' at best."

Many people following the At-Large study were equally unimpressed by Mr Roberts' insistence that those in charge be left to decide without outside input. "A declaration that we have no rights in the internet and that his people will decide what is right is shameful," wrote one. "Not listening is a form of abuse Mike!", wrote another.

One poster was angry at the suggestion that ICANN members had been twidling their thumbs over Internet security: "You were repeatedly warned that the DNS had and still has security problems," one wrote in direct response to Mr Roberts. "Most of the Root servers have security problems. The IP addressing system is strewn with security problems, and the registration database is wide open for terrorists activities! We [INEGroup] again warned you over a year ago about most of these problems, and all of them long before Sept 11. YOU Mike, and the ICANN Board of Directors basically ignored those warnings. Many others also warned of these same problems. YOU called them 'Kooks' in a Wired article in July '99! Remember that Mike!?"

From techie to politician in two easy steps

A fundamental concern for many Internet users since ICANN was created in 1998 has been its movement from a technical body charged with running the Internet to one that is a political beast and which attempts to control all elements running over the infrastructure. Mike Roberts is widely acknowledged as the man behind this change.

Even though Mr Roberts' desire for political influence is well noted, his use of the recent terrorism on an unconnected newsgroup has been a step too far for many. One user wrote: "ICANN is not the US Government and therefore any attempt to capture the operation of the Internet through non-open and transparent means is a threat and should be viewed as such."

A posting in watchdog site ICANN Watch.org says: "It's impossible to adequately capture the fanatical, thanatotic zeal with which Roberts embraces the proposition that Bush's signing of the deeply disturbing USA-PATRIOT Act of 2001 'brings the Internet and its developers, providers and users directly into the new war on terrorism'."

Roberts' newsgroup post comes just weeks before ICANN meets in its home town of Los Angeles. The organisation has already infuriated many by insisting that all groups put Internet security as the overriding discussion topic. This insistence - to the extent that those who refuse to discuss security risk will have their funding removed - has been widely seen as an effort to avoid discussing (again) issues over new top-level domains, Board secrecy and domain dispute rules. ®

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