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[I-coordination] A different model

Bob Bruen korg at
Tue Dec 10 17:14:48 CET 2013

Hi Phillip,

Your thoughtful email desverves more than I am about to give, but I want
to make two points in response, because they relate to many other posts.

1) The US does have a privileged position with ICANN. This is the result
of history. The US invented the Internet and has driven much of its
development. The US has not really done very much to influence ICANN's
work, when it could have done more.

I understand the rest of the world wants more of a say in what ICANN does,
but they are not being held back by the US. The ICANN meetings are filled
with people from all over the world expressing their opinions. Many of he
top positions in ICANN (eg CEO, COO, Compliance) are help by non-Americans
Believe it or not, many Americans like the world wide input.

Attacking the US position is more of a attempt to take perceived power
away from the US than anything else. Moreover, if ICANN were suddenly
totally free or under the influence of some other government or group of
governments, there is no evidence that things would be better. In fact,
things could get much worse. For example, think about the UN Security
Council's inability to do things, because one or two members veto a

2) My second point is about the definition of Internet Governance, where
you say the Internet is ungovernable and previously pointed out the
difference between the technical view and the political view. I agree with

I am still looking for a definition of IG, not the policy choices, such
"keep it free" and "stop spying," but what can be governed (like your
control points) and how. I worked on a governance  committee at a college
once. It was about sharing of power between the faculty and the president
over runnning the college. It was clear what was being governed, the only
issue was how.

Looking at the Internet, there seems to me that there is nothing to
govern. Governments can try to control things like access and content, but
only within their borders.  The rest of world is not subject to what a
particular government chooses.

If you or anyone else can provide a base definition of IG, I would
appreciate it. What does governing the Internet mean?


On Tue, 10 Dec 2013, Phillip Hallam-Baker wrote:

> One of the big problems with the net is working out what metaphors to use. 
> People who are talking about 'Internet governance' miss the fact that the Internet is fundamentally
> ungovernable. What we are really talking about is the governance of a small number of control points. 
> The control points that exist are not absolute and the exercise of those control points is governed by
> what Roger Hurwitz, Joe Nye et. al. are trying to get me to call 'norms'.
> So one way to quantify the issues is to consider the degree of control a control point exercises, what
> the norms are that govern that exercise, who decides when to switch should a norm be violated and what
> the cost of switching is.
> When we are considering switching costs these range from set up a new version of ICANN at the bottom
> rung to build a completely different communication infrastructure at the top. While replacing the
> Internet might sound absurd, that is exactly what has occurred in Cuba and North Korea where the
> authorities have tried to suppress the Internet with the result that people use USB memory sticks to
> communicate.
> At the moment we have a model in which the switching costs are very low and nobody is entirely sure
> what the norms are. What we are sure of is that we can replace ICANN if those norms are violated. 
> The US has a privileged but not unique position in deciding if those norms are violated but not much
> else. The switching costs are low and so coercing ICANN to violate a norm is futile.
> The change that we wish to make in the Internet is to secure the infrastructures. And this is necessary
> in part because various governments are attacking them for their own purposes. The US is not alone in
> that respect. BGP and DNS attacks are becoming a serious threat to civil critical infrastructures.
> Securing the infrastructures will inevitably change the switching costs which reduces the ability of
> non-US parties to decide that a norm has been violated.
> To date the discussion has been focused on the question of removing the US privileged position over
> ICANN, IANA, etc. This is a difficult question because it is always hard for an organization to give up
> or share an exclusive power. There are factions within the US government whose mindset is resolutely
> neo-colonialist, tin-pot imperialist., just as there are such factions in every government. The same
> factions that forces the US to continue the obscene gulag in Guantanamo over the wishes of the elected
> administration can resist any plan to dilute or give up the US privileged position. Moreover there are
> good reasons for the US to resist ceding any degree of control to parties that are more rather than
> less likely to observe traditional norms.
> Rather than looking to fight over the existing control points, a better approach is to look at the new
> infrastructures required to manage the security infrastructure that the Internet badly needs.
> In corporate terms, ICANN is the CEO of the security infrastructure. It is necessary to vest executive
> power in one body because there are many decisions that only make sense if they are coherent and taken
> by one body.
> But public corporations do not vest absolute power in the CEO. Responsibility for monitoring the
> performance of the CEO is vested in a board of directors who have the power to decide when to fire the
> CEO and on what grounds.
> I see the potential for governments to play a similar role, not within ICANN but above and alongside
> it. Rather than accepting the NSA models of Internet security that concentrate control of the security
> infrastructures at a single point, governments can and should insist that the control of the apex of
> the security infrastructures is shared in such a fashion that a group of governments that decide ICANN
> has violated the operating norms can act in concert can reduce the switching costs to enable a change
> of management.
> The way it would work is this. Each government that decided to participate would establish a national
> cryptographic bureau that would manage a root key that signs the apex roots of the DNSSEC, BGP, etc.
> and commit to continue those services for a period of some decades. This would allow providers of
> embedded devices, routers, etc. to either chain to their national provider alone or some quorum of
> national cryptographic bureaus. 
> This approach allows the deployment of cryptographic infrastructure without impact on switching costs. 
> More importantly for ICANN staff, it protects against the risk that someone perform a physical
> terrorist attack against the root. The World Trade Center was merely an office block that was mostly
> filled with lawyers but the name made it a symbol of the global financial system. The name was in legal
> terms 'an attractive nuisance'. 
> --
> Website:

Dr. Robert Bruen
KnujOn Org

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