Reflections on ICANN turning 46 in China

I’ve just returned from Beijing, China where ICANN held its 46th International Meeting.

As many of you know, ICANN is a strange and interesting organisation. Part United Nations of the Internet, part International Olympic Committee, part knockabout yah-boo-sucks debating chamber (like the British House of Commons, perhaps with Marilyn Cade in the part of the late Margaret Thatcher), part charitable good cause, part travel club, and a few other things I’ve no doubt overlooked.

But I’m getting the feeling that somehow, in all of this, something fundamental is starting to be overlooked.

When ICANN was founded (and I was — as one of the participants in the US Government’s International Forum on the White Paper — one of ICANN’s founding “members”¹), it was designed, by Ira Magaziner and the rest of us to be a multi-stakeholder, agile, organisation that “co-ordinated” internet naming matters.

That sort of organisation was needed because “internet time” moves at a much quicker pace than normal intergovernmental regulation could hope to keep up with technological development.

But — it seems — ICANN is beginning to do what it should not, and stray into matters of content.  Although some of the more authoritarian governments are attempting to use ICANN as a lever to control content (such objections to .GAY and .HIV), it’s not only from such quarters that the challenges to fundmental rights are coming.

ICANN will have to find a path through this thicket.

It appears to me that new CEO Fadi Chehadé may (and at this point I only say ‘may’) be the right person to do it.

Certainly, it seems to me the celebrity Hollywood style of his predecessor, although highly entertaining would — if allowed to continue — have probably sunk the boat.

Now back from China, I am reminded of an ancient chinese curse:

‘May you live in interesting times’



(¹ I put ‘members’ in quotes becuase, peculiarly, for a non-profit org, it HAS no members).

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