The Trouble With ICANN

The Ongoing Struggle Over Who Controls the Internet

News | Joshua Zakary | March 2007

In recent years we have been seeing a growing conflict over who exactly should control the Internet. Many countries have voiced their concerns with the United States hegemony and have suggested an "United Nations" for the Internet, where control would be distributed among several countries. The Americans have so far shot down all proposals, convinced that the Internet is safe in U.S. hands.

Some recent events however, have called into question the very foundations of Internet neutrality. U.K. based firm Spamhaus, dedicated to exposing and shutting down internet spammers around the world, has been sued by American company, e360 Insight LLC.  The company e360 insists it has been unfairly labeled as "spammers."

The row started when Spamhaus added e360 to a "black list" that is sent to hundreds of companies, who then block these addresses from their email accounts.  A judge in U.S. court sided with e360 Insight, and awarded them over eleven million dollars in damages. Spamhaus continues to contest the verdict, and as they are based in the U. K., they have simply ignored the judgment.

Unable to leave the case alone, e360 convinced district court judge Charles P Kocoras to explore the option of forcing ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) to shutdown the Spamhaus’ domain name from the Internet. ICANN was established as an independent body to regulate the use of Internet domain names. In many ways, it is the backbone of the Internet.

IT law expert David Woods, an associate at Pinsent Masons solicitors, stated that in "In theory ICANN is an independent body to regulate the use of domain names — but it’s subject to U.S. law. If it is ordered to, it is likely to take the safer option [and comply]."

However, the Illinois district court later decided not to take action against the Spamhaus domain name. The reasoning behind this reversal was that shutting down would shut down all information on the web site, and not simply the illegal information about e360.

Even though the decision was overturned, the case has raised serious concerns as to whether the Internet is truly neutral, or is it just an extension of U.S. interests. What would have happened if ICANN were under the jurisdiction of the EU, and let’s say Microsoft decided not to pay EU damages for unfair competition? In retaliation the EU decides to shutdown Microsoft’s domain name from the Internet.

The Internet is considered by most people around the world as an untouchable entity that cannot be restrained by a single government’s influence. Many people may argue that all you have to do is look at the censorship in China to see how easily the Internet can be restricted. Even with all the power and influence China may have on the world stage, they can only restrict the Internet within their borders.  Only the United States has the potential to wipe a company’s domain name off the face of the earth, and possibly eradicate the Internet, as we know it.

So far, users have operated under the assumption that the Internet is not the property of any country or company, and therefore should not be used by companies or governments as a tool of intimidation.

Unfortunately, cases such as this one show the inherent frailty of the entire system. We need to come to a firm understanding within the international community to insure the Internet is not a rubber stamp for any countries interests.

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