It is hardly surprising that Commissioner Viviane Reding has felt a rather urgent need to answer the criticism that has been directed – by me, as well as numerous others – against the position taken by the European Commission in the ongoing international discussions on Internet governance.
And this she did in the linked speech in Brussels on October 17th. I’m sorry that it is only now that I have had the time to comment on it.
In the speech she defends the Commission position by giving what is very close to a completely false description of the existing state of affairs. The average reader is left with the impression that it is the US government that takes all the decisions on – among other things – country domain names, and the average reader is accordingly likely to find this a somewhat odd arrangement.
But this is not the case. All these decisions are taken by the independent ICANN corporation which brings together the different stake-holderds in the system, and Reding is saying that ”we fully support” ICANN. And they are always taken with an input from its powerful Government Advisory Committee, in which the European Commission has always been fairly active.
The US role is limited to an ultimate oversight over the changes introduced in the system through one of the so called root servers, although the most important one. This is a role that is derived from the historical role the US has played in the origin and evolution of the system.
But this is a power that, to my knowledge, has never been used to interfere with, alter or in any way change any of the decisions on these issues taken by ICANN. It’s an ultimate safeguard in the system – nothing more than that, but as such of rather profound importance.
The problem with the European Commission approach is that it misrepresents the actual state of affairs in order to seek changes that are very unclear and in fact might lead to a very messy and potentially dangereous situation.
It’s hardly surprising that Reding is very vague on what she wants to replace this ultimate US safeguards function with. She talks vaguely about ”a forum” that ”would not replace existing mechanisms and institutions, but complement them”.
What does exactly does this mean? First she attacks the existing mechanisms by misrepresenting then, and then she calls for something that would not replace anything of it?
Is it just a confused text, or confusing thinking or throuroughly confused policy? I suspect the latter.
And the problem is that by moving down this road – attacking a system that might not be perfect but actually works rather well, playing on feelings that we should rather seek to contain and introducing vague ideas about the future that might risk opening for profoundly dangereous developments – the European Commission risks actively playing into the hands of those that really want a handle on the control of the Internet.
Commission Reding says that she fully supports ICANN.
Fine, but then she should listen more to them that to the cotterie of control regimes that are seeking change.
And there are also others worth listening to on issues like these. The European Network Operators Association ETNO might not belong to the household names in the public debate throughout Europe, but on an issue like these they are certainly worth listening to.
In a letter to the European Commission, they have said that they are ”surprised” by the stand that the Commission has taken, and that they are ”concerned that the proposed amendment, as currently drafted, would risk to affect negatively global connectivity, security or reliability of the Internet.”
That’s fairly strong language on an important issue.
The European Commission must be on the right side of an issue like this. Now it is – at best – in the middle of a self-created muddle in between.