The dot-org domain extension was established as one of the first top-level domains in 1985 alongside dot-com, dot-net and a handful of others. In 2002, administration over the domain was awarded to the Public Interest Registry (PIR), a non-profit established by the Internet Society (ISOC), to run the extension. PIR recently announced that it was being purchased by Ethos Capital, a private equity firm that includes a former CEO of ICANN among its founders. With a rumoured purchase price of over $1 billion dollars, there is big money for ISOC but the deal has left the non-profit community worried about potential price increases and policy changes to the domain that could impact online speech. Elliot Harmon, Activism Director with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, recently wrote about the issue and has been working on a campaign with NGOs around the world opposed to the deal. He joined on the podcast to discuss the background behind dot-org, the concerns with the sale, and what can be done about it.
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The Trouble with the TPP series explores Internet-related issues this week, starting with the surprising inclusion of Internet governance in a trade deal. The debate over Internet governance for much of the past decade has often come down to a battle between ICANN and the ITU (a UN body), which in turn is characterized as a choice between a private-sector led, bottoms-up, consensus model (ICANN) or a governmental-controlled approach. Canada (along with countries like the U.S. and Australia) have consistently sided with the ICANN-model, arguing for a multi-stakeholder approach with limited government intervention. In fact, at the 2014 NetMundial conference, the Canadian government stated:
The multistakeholder model of Internet governance has been a key driver in the success of the Internet to date. Canada firmly supports this model and believes it must continue to be the foundation for all discussions in order to preserve the Internet’s open architecture. Canada firmly supports strengthening this model. Government centric approaches would stifle the innovation and dynamism associated with the Internet.
The Trouble with the TPP is that it contradicts Canada’s longstanding policy on Internet governance. While Canada, the U.S. and other TPP countries urge the governments of the world to take a hands-off approach to the Internet, the TPP opens the door to country-code domain intervention (note that I am on the board of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, which manages the dot-ca domain).
As new top-level domains continue to enter the marketplace, one of the most controversial has been dot-sucks. The new top-level domain has generated criticism for its business model as much as for the websites that are likely to use it, with the intellectual property community describing the model behind dot-sucks as “illicit” and “predatory, exploitive, and coercive”. That recently led to a complaint to ICANN, which took the unusual step of writing to the U.S. and Canadian governments to determine whether the company behind dot-sucks was violating any national laws, claiming it “was very concerned about any possible illegality.”
The decision to include the Canadian government in the letter stems from the fact that dot-sucks is owned by a subsidiary of Momentous Corp., an Ottawa-based company. This week, the Canadian government responded to the ICANN letter, making it clear that it has absolutely no intention of intervening in the case. The key paragraph in the letter signed by Industry Canada Deputy Minister John Knobley:
Government Control Over Internet Governance: Proposal Would Give the GAC Increased Power over ICANN Board Decisions
The debate over Internet governance for much of the past decade has often come down to a battle between ICANN and the ITU (a UN body), which in turn is characterized as a choice between a private-sector led, bottoms-up, consensus model (ICANN) or a governmental-controlled approach. The reality has always been far more complicated. The U.S. still maintains contractual control over ICANN, while all governments exert considerable power within the ICANN model through the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC).
While the GAC claims its role is merely to provide “advice” to ICANN, it often seems to take the view that its suggestions can’t be refused. Indeed, late on Friday, ICANN proposed a by-law change that would grant governments even greater control over its decision-making process. At the moment, ICANN looks to various supporting organizations to develop policies designed to represent the views of many different stakeholders, including the GAC. Where the GAC and the ICANN board disagree on a policy issue, the ICANN board decision governs provided that a simple majority of board members vote against the GAC advice and that ICANN provide an explanation for the decision.
ICANN is now proposing that the threshold be increased so that 2/3 of eligible ICANN board members would be required to vote against GAC advice in order to reject it.
Earlier this year, a group of U.S. litigants launched an unusual domain name lawsuit. The group consisted of family members of victims of terror attacks they claim were sponsored by the governments of Iran, Syria, and North Korea. The group had succeeded in winning over a billion dollars in damages in several lawsuits filed in U.S. courts.
Unable to collect, they sued the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the body that administers the Internet’s domain name system. Their goal: seize the dot-ir, dot-sy, and dot-kp domain name extensions (the respective country-code domains) by ordering ICANN to transfer them as compensation.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the notion of seizing a country’s domain name extension may sound implausible, but the case is proceeding through the U.S. court system with ICANN filing a brief late last month. ICANN is unsurprisingly seeking to dismiss the case, arguing that the domain name extensions are not property that is capable of seizure (I am a board member of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, Canada’s dot-ca administrator, but this article represents my own views and not those of CIRA).