ICANN creates 'UN Security Council for the internet', installs itself as a permanent member
Now to 'protect children through a browser'
In the same week that the United Nations finally gave up trying to grab control of the internet, a group of three organizations led by domain-name overseer ICANN have launched an effort to become the internet's UN.
The "NetMundial Initiative" will be an "open source platform" and a "shared public resource" that will enable "calls for assistance on non-technical issues," representatives of three organizations – ICANN, Brazilian government-led CGI.br and the World Economic Forum (WEF) – said on Thursday.
"If there is a cybersecurity issue, or someone who has figured out how to protect children through a browser," then they can use the platform to connect with others as well as crowdsource and fund their efforts, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé enthused.
Unfortunately, the reality is quite different. There is no platform, not even a message board or chatroom. Instead, the initiative's website has a simple upload function for contributions (there are none at time of writing) and an application form for the initiative's "Coordination Council."
That council, it was revealed, will be structured in the same way as the UN's Security Council, complete with five "permanent members."
ICANN, CGI.br and the WEF have awarded themselves a seat each, and given the other two to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and a coalition of Internet organizations known as the "I-star" group.
It's all completely open and free. Except we're in charge, ok?
They announced that a further twenty members will be chosen (seemingly by the organizers) according to geographic region and different sectors, split equally between: academia; civil society; governments; and business.
Attendees to the launch immediately started questioning the structure, with some asking why a council was needed at all, others asking who would decide on the other members, and all reacting badly to the creation of five permanent members, which the organizers thereafter referred to as "anchor seats".
"Everything will be done bottom-up, this is the mother of all bottom-up processes," said Chehade to widespread disbelief in both the chatroom and on Twitter.
The claim that the initiative would not overlap other organizations' work was also derided. "Why create another platform?" asked one person in the short Q&A session after the presentation. "How do you expect to avoid duplication?"
Asked why ICANN was installing itself as a permanent member of a body that would only focus on non-technical issues when ICANN is specifically a technical body, Chehade gave an answer that left many scratching their heads:
"Why is ICANN on the Council? Precisely to clarify why our role should remain as it is: purely technical. It should not be at ICANN where these issues should be solved."
Which is the equivalent of the President of the United States installing himself on the Supreme Court just to make sure the distinction between judiciary and executive is clear to everyone.
It gets worse: let's follow the money
The three organizations also said they would be funding a "secretariat" for the initiative but gave no details over who would be involved, how they would be chosen, or what their role would be.
After 15 minutes of questions (following 45 minutes of presentations), the moderator of the launch – ICANN's press relations agency Edelman – shut down the online meeting with many complaining that their questions had not been asked.
This is not the first time ICANN has been criticized for its efforts to control conversations over internet governance while at the same time claiming to be open.
The creation of the NetMundial conference earlier this year and its sister astroturf organization, 1Net, was bankrolled by ICANN. It then used its clout to controversially change a key recommendation of the conference at the last minute.
Some months after that conference, ICANN was again criticized when it announced out the blue that it was partnering with the World Economic Forum to create the namesake "NetMundial Initiative".
Identifying the key areas of focus which look like, um, control of the Internet
Despite claiming a "bottom-up process", leaked documents revealed that the organization had drawn up its own agenda and processes as well as expended resources trying to pull high-profile US business figures into the discussion, including the heads of Intel, Google, Comcast, Apple, Verizon, Microsoft and Cisco.
Despite being asked repeatedly, ICANN and its two partners have so far refused to reveal how much money they have spent on the project, or how much they have committed to it going forward.
What is clear is that while months of effort have been put into developing the decision-making systems for this "open" project, there has been little or no effort made to engage the people that are actually working on solutions to internet governance problems.
There has been no mention of actual topics to be discussed beyond references to existing public documents, and no organizations that work on such solutions are referenced on the website or were present at the launch.
No wonder they decide to model themselves on the United Nations. ®