New directions for ISOCNZ

The Internet Society has changed direction with an AGM that saw nine new councillors elected. Behind the scenes a former councillor was calling the shots even though he himself was not a nominee. David Farrar talks about the Society, Domainz and the whole shebang.

David Farrar is a former ISOCNZ councillor who resigned following the leaking of an email he wrote at the behest of ISOCNZ chair Peter Dengate Thrush. The email outlined Farrar’s reasons for not being able to offer his confidence in Domainz, the ISOCNZ-owned company that runs New Zealand’s domain name registry.

Now he’s back — but not really. Despite helping to organise the coup that toppled ISOCNZ’s hierarchy, Farrar himself is not one of the new councillors, although his name does pop up on the ISOCNZ newsgroup with more and more frequency. Paul Brislen spoke to Farrar.

Were you concerned that the incumbent board would be able to out-manoeuver your lot at the last moment?

Well, they managed to get about 40 proxies themselves between them. They tried to pull in this professor of competition law who’d only been briefed by them to tell us that giving people more competition and lower prices would be bad. I really liked the irony of that.

They pulled it on me the night before giving me half an hour’s notice to turn up to a meeting with them. They said, ‘if it’s illegal we can’t allow it to be voted on’. I had to tell these lawyers that something is illegal when a high court judge gives an opinion.

Yeah, not when someone is wheeled out at a society meeting.

They tried that, they then changed the report [from the working group] at the last moment. We had to go back to the original recommendations. But in the end it did get through.

Yes, you can only dance around so much, can’t you?

At the end of the day I wouldn’t have minded hearing from the professor of competition law so long as you give us the same amount of time to explain all the assumptions he’s based it on, I’m quite happy for it, but when they kept trying all the tricks people were bothered by it and quite frankly we had the numbers anyway.

And at the end of the day that’s all that counts I suppose.

It was nice because the vast majority of stuff got carried on voices rather than anything else.

So you didn’t even need to rely on the proxy votes for some of them?

No, they were by far the minority on the day.

So what’s the next step for you — you’re not actually a councillor are you?

No, I wasn’t quite that stupid. I shouldn’t say that — I thought it would be better for me having been one of the organisers not be standing myself.

Right, so they can’t reduce it to a —

"He’s got lots of friends to vote him into a position of power" -- right. They’ve already tried to paint it as an industry take-over, and again myself having absolutely no relation to the industry makes that very difficult.

The other thing I should point out is that in the constitution of ISOCNZ it says we seek to be the principle representative of industry. Complaining that industry has taken over is like parliament complaining that the voters have dominated them.

Isn’t that the point of it all?

Yes, exactly. So I’ll stay involved in the interim but I thought it would be easier not to have a strong personality who seemed to be behind it all because of any potential accusations.

Fair enough too, I think.

Besides, it entails about 10 to 15 hours work a week and I do have to earn a crust as well.

I was disturbed to hear one councillor had said some of the new councillors would drop out once they’d seen how much work was involved.

From what I can gather, I think that conversation was taken out of context somewhat. There was a councillor who did resign because of a lack of time and I think they were referring more specifically to him.

And what about the current chair — Peter Dengate Thrush — what is to become of him following the coup?

Peter has a lot of skills and a huge amount of ability. Whether he’s chair or not he’s a key figure in ISOCNZ.

What is the process at this point — do the councillors elect a new chair or what?

He’s a councillor through to June 2001. The chair is to be elected by council. It’s no secret that Roger De Salis has announced he wishes to stand for chair to enable him to drive these changes through. But that’s a decision for the council to take.

Everyone I’ve spoken to says the work Peter does on the international stage is superb and they’re very keen for him to continue in that role in the foreseeable future. Whether he’s chairman of the council is another matter and I don’t have any idea what council will do on that one.

When do they have to decide on the chair?

Within 30 days of the AGM. There is a meeting scheduled but it’s probably going to be delayed a week [until July 9] to give the new councillors time to get to grips with their role.

On the list I see a lot of debate about issues of communication — how open it will be, this kind of thing. What’s your view on that issue?

I always tend to think one of the greatest things Muldoon ever did in his government was the Official Information Act which changed the entire presumption from the old rule, which was ‘everything will remain confidential unless we decide to make it public’, to ‘will be public unless there is a good reason to keep it confidential’.

On the same basis, I think the mailing lists would be a good place to start. There certainly will be the odd issue which would be inappropriate to discuss openly — dealing with staff or terms of commercial confidentiality — which shouldn’t be discussed on a public list.

My suggestion would be have the main council list where people can read the archives, but not post to the list and have an in-committee list for those issues that aren’t appropriate to that forum. Any results from such deliberations would be posted to the open list.

What I think is good is there are so many new councillors are debating this issue on the public list.

So do you think that will be the end of the ‘cabinet rules’ of secrecy?

To some degree they have moved away from that anyway, away from the very strict rules where you couldn’t give an honest opinion in public if it diverged from what had been decided [on council]. That’s gone, and now they’re allowed to speak publically about why they disagree with a decision.

There is still a restriction on being able to post stuff from the council mailing list. There’s going to be quite an interesting dynamic now the councillors are speaking more freely. The perception of secrecy can be as damaging as if you are a secret society.

That should keep me going I think.

Hopefully there will be fewer IDG stories in the future. Well, I hope they will be there but they’ll be good stories — progress on the SRS and that sort of stuff.

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