Today is the ninth anniversary of ICANN as the master of the internet universe, and on that note, the controversial organization that controls the technical standards of internet seems to merit a salutation of sorts.
ICANN was created by the American government to manage the backbone of the internet, and it assumed official control of the net we all know and love on September 18, 1998. From the outset, ICANN was controversial, in part because of the role it fulfills: like it or not, deny it or not, ICANN has the kind of policy-making authority traditionally reserved for elected officials.
As much as ICANN bends over backward to be inclusive - which it does these days - many will never forgive that fundamental flaw. ICANN continues to this day as a California nonprofit corporation, based in a suburb of Los Angeles and perched on a stretch of coastal landfill.
ICANN thus embodies a very contemporary dilemma: how to outsource what traditionally is government work, while maintaining accountability to the electorate? The awkward, unwieldy structure of ICANN - committees heaped upon committees, in an alphabet soup of bizarre acronyms - is only the outward manifestation of this inherent inner tension.
Those who think that this is exactly the kind of authority that is fundamental to governance, and therefore not to be outsourced, will never be satisfied with the ICANN model. It may not be ideal, but it is what we’ve got, and ICANN’s imperfect attempts to involve the public in its decision-making process are nonetheless to be lauded.
Let's hope that ICANN continues in that direction, particularly when it comes to increasing transparency in its dealings with the US Department of Commerce and other governments, with which it consults regularly via representatives on the Government Advisory Committee (GAC).
In furtherance of the goal of expanding public participation in ICANN, we encourage everyone to take ICANN's recent customer satisfaction survey, and tell them what you think. They just might listen.®
Burke Hansen, attorney at large, heads a San Francisco law office