Both sides find fault with new domain name plan

A draft proposal to create a new organisation to manage the Internet's top-level domains lacks consensus now, but is on its way to meeting the US government's requirements, says President Clinton's Internet czar, Ira Magaziner. The draft was released to the public last week with proponents claiming they had a consensus. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is criticising the proposal, alleging it fails to protect the rights of the public to participate in the process and limits the rights of the organisation's board.

A draft proposal to create a new organisation to manage the Internet's top-level domains lacks consensus now, but is on its way to meeting the US government's requirements, Ira Magaziner, President Clinton's senior adviser for policy development, says.

The draft was released to the public last week with proponents claiming they had a consensus. But the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) criticised the proposal, alleging that it fails to protect the rights of the public to participate in the process and limits the rights of the organisation's board.

"I feel like they're making progress and that the criticisms made by different groups have to be taken into consideration," Magaziner said in a phone interview. "It doesn't have sufficient consensus" yet, he said, adding that he thinks the drafters will reach a plan favored by a majority of the interested parties before the Oct. 1 deadline.

"It's the Internet, so you'll never get 100% consensus on anything," he added. "To my way of thinking the critiques that have been out on this are helpful because they'll help point the way to a (sufficient) consensus."

Magaziner refused to comment on the substance of either the draft proposal or the EFF's criticisms, saying he didn't want the U.S. government to influence the content of the proposal.

In June of this year, Magaziner released a whitepaper that asked the private sector -- companies, organizations and individuals associated with the Internet -- to come to a consensus on a new way to manage top-level domains that would be global in scope and would represent the many diverse Internet interests.

The draft proposal calls for creation of a non-profit US-based company -- the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) -- to oversee the administration and registering of top-level domains, including .com and .org. Those responsibilities are currently handled by the Internet Assigned Names Authority (IANA) and Network Solutions Inc. (NSI) whose contracts expire at the end of this month. Both the IANA and NSI have been lead negotiators on the draft proposal.

EFF President Barry Steinhardt said the proposal as it stands does not meet the whitepaper's requirements of "transparency and democratic decision making

The EFF wants the new organisation's meetings to be open, not closed as proposed, and for the board to be able to change the bylaws if need be, instead of having to wait until June 1999 to do so, said EFF Co-founder and Board Member John Gilmore.

The board also should not be forced to follow existing or future contracts with NSI, as proposed, Gilmore said, adding by requiring that the proposal protects NSI's monopoly.

"The US government is negotiating behind the scenes with the NSI and trying to cut some deal out of the public eye," Gilmore said. "Meanwhile, the new IANA, which is a democratic organisation designed to grapple with these policy issues, will be left out in the cold... (but) the new IANA shouldn't be bound by any contract it hasn't signed."

One of the biggest complaints the EFF has with the draft proposal is its lack of protection for freedom of expression, which drafters have refused to include for three of the drafts, according to Gilmore. The NSI "can reject a (domain) name for any reason or no reason, it's up to their discretion," he said. "And that is just not compatible with free expression."

Gilmore speculated that the proposal drafters don't want to create opportunities for the new organization to get sued over the domains it hands out. "My attitude is as long as they don't restrict free expression than nobody's going to sue them," he added.

Attorney Joe Sims, who worked with IANA on the proposal, said that although he couldn't comment on specific EFF complaints, some of the suggestions will likely see their way into the final proposal.

The draft proposal is available on the Web at http://www.iana.org/bylaws-coop.html/ and the EFF's suggested revisions to it are at http://www.eff.org/pub/GII_NII/DNS_control/.

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