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The Internet’s Legitimacy Threat
DNSDecrypt is back and better than ever -- plus, the growing threat to private sector leadership of Internet plumbing.
Welcome back to DNSDecrypt, your trusted source for independent and ad-free coverage of the Internet’s plumbing. As some readers may know, until the fall last year, I was publishing regular reporting on ICANN and the politics and policymaking at the Internet’s root. Unfortunately, I was forced to step away after my mother was unexpectedly killed by medical malpractice.
However, DNSDecrypt is now resuming and is better than ever! In addition to covering the Internet infrastructure industry and Internet governance policymaking, the focus of DNSDecrypt is broadening to cover issues impacting safety, security, and freedom on the Internet — such as the still-simmering matters of end-to-end encryption and Section 230 reform.
The plan is to publish 2-3 times per week and in a format that includes a longer-form analysis and reporting as well as links to other information sources from around the Web. We also plan to work to include exclusive interviews with stakeholders on the front lines of critical issues impacting the Internet’s plumbing and will continue building out additional content for subscribers.
The intent is to provide an information resource that offers value and saves time for busy professionals and stakeholders that care about the important yet underreported issues affecting the global Internet.
For the next 45 days, every edition will be available to everyone, including free subscribers, and a 25% discount is available for those wishing to support this critical coverage. Starting June 1st, the discounted promotion will end and most editions will be available only to paid subscribers while free members will receive previews as well as one full edition per week. There’s a lot of value planned, so take advantage of the discount now.
Now, let’s take a look as what is going on with the Internet’s plumbing.
What is going on with ICANN?
Readers know that I tend to take a highly skeptical attitude towards ICANN and its largest contracted parties. The real issue is about the failure of ICANN’s governance because, after all, when has there ever been a positive or beneficial outcome resulting from the absence of robust, effective accountability and transparency?
To say that there is a large and growing body of evidence for the negative consequences of ICANN’s failures might be considered an understatement.
ICANN ignored near-unanimous opposition to allowing increases for both .com pricing and .org pricing. In the case of .com, ICANN accepted $20 million from the registry operator at the same time as allowing price increases while a proposed billion-dollar-sale for the .org registry by the Internet Society to Fadi Chehade’s Ethos Capital was announced shortly after price caps were removed. This proposed sale was ultimately aborted when ICANN’s board failed to approve the necessary change of control, but shenanigans involving the dedicated public resource for non-profits on the Internet continue still today.
The African Union is unable to register its domain of choice in the .africa gTLD because that string, “au,” is reserved as the acronym of an intergovernmental organization. Well, yes of course it is. But it seems to be almost parody that the intergovernmental organization for which “au” is reserved is, in fact, unable to register it for itself. This inanity is compounded when considering that it has taken 21 months for ICANN’s Maarten Botterman to even respond to the letter raising the issue from African Union vice-chair Kwesi Quartey.
After more than five years, the .web auction fiasco continues — and gets even weirder. This would really be the height of ICANN incompetence, except that there are so many other examples to choose from, such as…👇🏻
The WHOIS replacement protocol, SSAD, is still inching along — which, for ICANN and its contracted registries and registrars, is a feature and not a bug. Contrary to what some apologists say, however, this travesty of Internet governance is not good news for those who advocate for consumer safety and trust on the Internet and it is a black eye on ICANN and it’s stakeholders. The consequences of this mess have been spelled out clearly and are harming Americans and other vulnerable users on the Internet.
ICANN is violating its corporate bylaws by acting as a registrar for purposes of cybersquatting on certain domain names. Despite having been made aware of this transgression through the formal complaint process, ICANN has refused to respond substantively or remedy this misconduct for nearly a year.
These are but a few examples among many more glaring signs of incompetence and organizational malaise. In the face of this, ICANN’s accountability mechanisms are mired in bureaucratic molasses — which can and should be seen as a systemic failure. Rather than trying to help solve the problems of its wayward creation, the U.S. government is compounding matters, most recently by exempting ICANN and its contracted parties from the Cyber Incident Reporting for Critical Infrastructure Act of 2022, included in the Omnibus Appropriations bill funding the federal government.
Why does this matter?
It matters because the lack of accountability for operators of the Internet’s root infrastructure is eroding the legitimacy of the status quo and leaving governance open to challenges from anti-freedom adversaries in their attempts at greater control of the Internet.
As David Ignatius reported last May in The Washington Post, “Russia’s campaign to control the Internet isn’t just a secret intelligence gambit any longer. It’s an explicit goal, proclaimed by Russian President Vladimir Putin as a key element of the Kremlin’s foreign policy.” Ignatius lays out Russia’s ambitious plan in two parts:
“First, the United Nations has embraced Russia’s proposal to write a new treaty governing cybercrime, to replace the 2001 Budapest convention that Moscow rejected because it was too intrusive. And second, Russia is lobbying for its candidate to head the U.N.’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and use it to supplant the current private group, known as ICANN, that coordinates Internet addresses.” (emphasis added)
In fact, despite facing international isolation and blowback from its invasion of Ukraine, Russia is intensifying efforts to promote its preferred ITU candidate, Rashid Ismailov, who has stated his intent to take advantage of what he sees as declining U.S. dominance over Internet governance.
In the face of these challenges, the attention of Congress and other stakeholders appears to be consumed with alleged anti-competitive behavior and censorship by Google, Facebook, and other tech giants at the edge of the Internet and which regularly inflames partisans on both the left and the right.
As was recently reported in the Washington Examiner, former national security officials Tom Ridge, secretary of homeland security under President George W. Bush, and Janet Napolitano, secretary of homeland security under President Barack Obama, have argued that “today’s platforms feature security flaws because of a lack of competition in the tech industry and that self-preferencing behavior undermines consumer security.”
These officials are highlighting concerns about the consequences from a lack of competition at the Internet’s edge where platform providers may have significant market share but not be actual monopolies. Contrast this with the Internet’s plumbing which gets little to no mainstream attention or scrutiny and where ICANN and domain name registries are, by their very nature, monopolies.
The legitimacy of our current system for overseeing public Internet resources necessarily stems from accountable and transparent governance mechanisms. Yet, ICANN demonstrably isn’t accountable or transparent and DNS stakeholders appear unable or unwilling to do much of anything about it.
Meanwhile, the world appears to be entering a period of epochal change likely to be marked by seismic shifts of how influence is distributed amongst the world’s powerful nations. Already, we see Russia, China, and other opportunists beginning to violently disrupt the traditional non-military methods in which the U.S. projects power and advances freedom. Given Russian and Chinese stated objectives regarding control of the Internet and their objections to the governance status quo, it is unsurprising that the DNS and the Internet’s plumbing also are becoming an increasingly contentious focus of great power competition.
This state of affairs should be creating immediate urgency for cleaning up ICANN’s accountability and transparency shortcomings so as to fortify a bulwark of legitimacy that has a chance of withstanding the anti-freedom agenda of Russia, China, and others. Yet, no sign of any such impetus is visible and, in fact, the U.S. government is making the situation worse by further insulating ICANN and its contracted parties from accountability. This isn’t sustainable and unless something gives, ICANN and private sector leadership of the Internet’s plumbing risk becoming early casualties of a renewed 21st-century Great Game.
Think differently? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.
Domain sales exempt from US sanctions on Russia. (Kevin Murphy / DomainIncite)
Russia’s candidate for world telecom agency post reveals consequences of U.S. tech dominance. (RT). US dominance in the field of technology and communications does not allow the international community to set a legal framework necessary to ensure the protection of all players against “monstrous” things, Russia’s candidate for the post of secretary general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Rashid Ismailov, said.
U.S Treasury moves to keep Russians connected despite sanctions. (AccessNow). The U.S. Treasury Department exempted internet communications services, and related software, hardware, or technologies, from U.S. sanctions against Russia.
Microsoft seizes domains Russia was using to attack Ukraine. (Tom Burt / Microsoft Blog). Microsoft announces that it is targeting domain names being used by Russian hackers to attack Ukrainian, U.S., and E.U targets.
The unprecedented role of the Internet in the war in Ukraine. (Larry Press / CircleID). The impact of the Internet in the Russia-Ukraine war is unprecedented in speed and scope. The most visible example of this has been President Zelenskyy’s use of social media and teleconferencing in his roles as Commander in Chief of the armed forces, a global diplomat, and a leader of the Ukrainian people.
It’s time for a better vision of Internet governance: from multistakeholderism to citizenship. (Klaus Stoll / CircleID). The Internet is deteriorating into a Splinternet. Is multistakeholder governance still up to the task of Internet governance?
Antitrust reform: A Trojan horse packed with progressives and crony capitalists (Steve Delbianco / DailyWire)
Security / Encryption / Privacy
‘It can get very creepy very fast:’ John Oliver exposes multimillion-dollar data brokering industry. (Susan C. Olmsted / Children’s Health Defense). Data brokers know more about you than you might like — and do more with what they know than you might think, warned comedian John Oliver on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.”
EVENT: The cyber threat landscape: 2021 was a hell of a ride — 2022 isn’t shaping up any better. (Cyber Threat Alliance) 2022 has not been kind to us yet. Nations have been called to ‘shield up’ and get ready as wiper malwares and DDoS attacks are being leveraged in hybrid warfare and patriotic activists have joined the cyber warfare targeting organizations involved in the Ukraine and Russian conflict. Join CTA and Radware on April 21st at 11:00 AM EDT and see what are the most important threats looming in 2022 and why you should be concerned.
Domain Name Industry
InternetX and Sedo have released their Global Domains Report for 2022. (thedomains.com) The report is a detailed analysis of the entire domain name industry. A look at the latest developments, tendencies and trends and offering a view on potential market and business opportunities — particular focus on NFTs, crypto, and blockchain.
Free Speech / Section 230
EVENT: The future of online speech regulation: Section 230 and beyond. Online platforms are struggling to produce content-moderation strategies that satisfy increasingly polarized users. How can Congress, state officials, and social media firms address users’ content-moderation concerns while preserving the free and open internet? This April 11th event is hosted by Shane Tews of the American Enterprise Institute and includes a fireside chat and panel discussion featuring former Congressman Chris Cox — you can view the recording here.
Is shutting down the Russian internet an act of tyranny or democracy? (Shane Tews / AEIdeas). Blacking out, blocking, and redirecting internet traffic are all tools that disrupt the free flow of news and information to both Russian and Ukrainian citizens. Cutting off Russian users may hurt Russia’s economy, but it will also reduce its citizens’ freedom.
Interesting Side Note
The law that banned everything. (Richard Hanania / CSPI). A discussion. between Richard Hanania and Gail Herriott, a law professor at the University of San Diego and a member of the US Commission on Civil Rights, discussing the structural and systemic contributors to woke-ism and how laws and regulations meant to promote equality may be, in fact, causing substantial inequities.
Got a question, comment, or tip? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.