PERSONAL BACKGROUND IN INTERNET
Is ICANN Governance? ( Part
I | Part II )
Alternate Models of Governance
A Marketplace of Ideas
Laws in Real Space vs. Laws in Cyberspace
General Views on the U.S. Government
The Marketplace of Ideas and
Does the Internet Need Government or Governance?
Limits on ICANN’s Authority
I | Part II )
Fear of Capture
Is Consensus the Right Standard?
What is the Internet’s Greatest
Worst Case Scenario
February 25, 2000
Q: Define "governance."
A: Governance I think is the organic
orderings of society, as opposed to government which is the
structural ordering of society. I think that you hear the word
governance being used loosely, especially by people in government.
I know that when I started using it I meant it to be quite obviously
distinct from government. I meant it to be something that emerged
out of the need for an order, and something that was done by
common consensus. And the system that I see working in cyberspace
at the moment is precisely that: it's a natural, organic response
to problems, mostly of a technical nature. But those technical
problems have a political and social component. I would think
that in most cases, architecture is politics, which is a concept
that we had at EFF back in the early '90's that has recently
been made quite popular by Larry Lessig. It is certainly the
case in cyberspace where the technical architecture defines
the discourse in every instance.
Q: Is the organic structure of governance
effectively dealing with problems that have emerged in cyberspace?
A: It looks to me like it is. When
I think of problems that I consider problems, there are two
that have not been solved, or at least addressed in a way that
I would consider to be appropriately comprehensive. One of them
is spam. And I am waiting for what I fully expect to arrive:
the technical solution to spam, rather than the legal solution. And the other is the transition between the
traditional copyright model and the one that I think is going
to be the dominant way of organizing economic return for intellectual
work in cyberspace. We don't know what that is yet, and the first
order of business is to prevent the existing models from asserting
themselves in cyberspace. I mean we have to stop copyright at
the border, and in the meantime start developing other solutions.
But I think those are developing; they just haven't been codified.
I don't think anybody has come up with a model that is so dominating
that it's worth saying "this is the way things are going
to be." And that's of critical importance because I think
that the property model is not going to work here. You can't
own free speech, and if cyberspace is to be the ecology of ideas
that I fully expect it to be, we're going to have to address
this one. But we are. Today's conference is a case in point.
The more people who come and get all of the various problems
out on the table and address ways to solve them, the closer
we get organically derived solutions.
Q: The instinct seems to be to deal
with issues that arise through government and structure.
A: Well, I understand that instinct.
I mean, I've had it on occasion in the past myself. I used to
be a semi-pro environmentalist and I was always in favor of
passing laws, but it was precisely that experience that gradually
made me realize that I could get a lot further by changing social
ethics than I could by passing laws. And laws didn't precede ethics, ethics preceded
laws (in an ideal circumstance).
Furthermore, I look at the situation
we have here and it seems fairly obvious that nobody has the
right to be in charge. I
don't see anybody who has the right to rule in this instance.
I don't see any sovereign power that has legitimate claim to
authority over cyberspace. Nor do I think it makes sense to
endow some multi-national or global entity with the right to
rule because what I see happening with the global entities that
we have like the United Nations or the semi-global entities
like the European Commission is that they become hopeless quagmires
of bureaucracy which are apparently accountable to no one, rule
very arbitrarily and inefficiently, and become problems almost
the instant they're born. So I think that we have to turn to
other models for solutions to these problems. We can't just
go out and pass laws because the laws would be passed in an
area that doesn't have authority to enforce them.
Alternate Models of Governance – Technarchy
Q: Are there alternate models that
you think would work better?
A: Well, … my theory of how this
works is something I call technarcy, which is government by
ideas. Where the powerful entity is not an institution or a
charismatic individual or an elected individual or an electorate.
It's the idea itself. And you see this working in the way in
which the internet has been governed up to this point. If there's
a technological problem, let's say the address space in the
TCP/IP header has to be changed, well then you have a world-wide
call for solutions from the Internet Engineering Task Force.
And there are Requests for Comment and lots of different folks
who are involved in internet engineering, networking, that kind
of thing propose different solutions to the problem. So far
it has worked out that with a minimal amount of political juggling,
the ideas that dominate are the ones that seem generally the
most elegant ideas to practically all of the parties concerned.
I mean, those ideas become the ruling ideas by virtue of their
clarity, their precision, their ability to solve the problem
with a minimum amount of fuss and bother.
Q: Like a consensus?
A: It is not like a consensus, it
is a consensus, and the consensus is then institutionalized
by the willingness, which is purely voluntary, of different
sites to adopt that solution as part of their technology.
New solutions win by virtue of adoption, and they don't
get adopted if they're bad solutions.
on ICANN’s Authority (Part I)
Q: This echoes ICANN's claim that
their authority stems from peoples' willingness to adopt their
A: That's correct. They are, in
the same way the IETF is, a mediated body. They're a forum for
the free competition and evolution of ideas. And the ideas essentially,
as I say, are the enfranchised and governing entity.
Is ICANN Governance? (Part I)
Q: Is ICANN governance or government?
A: Ideally it's governance. And
I think if you ask most of the people who are involved with
ICANN, that's what they want to do.
They're not interested in being government at all, and
they would resist strongly the idea that they are government.
Q: Do you believe that they are
A: Yes, so far. But there are a
lot of governments and traditional industrial institutions that
want them to be government because government can be influenced
and can exercise authority in the traditional way and there
are a lot of those who are in traditional authority who want
to extend that traditional authority over cyberspace. And are looking for every entry point that
they can possibly get.
on ICANN’s Authority (Part II)
Q: Do you foresee that ICANN will
turn into a government?
A: No, I think that if they transition
into government, there are technical solutions to taking them
out of government. The top level domain is something that is
observed as a matter of common consent.
There are plenty of ways to manage the top level domain
on a much more distributive and anarchic basis so that you've
got lots and lots of different things that are in the top level
domain besides com and net and org and gov. Other people could
be putting up new top level jurisdictions or domains all the
time. And that will happen if ICANN is not commonly perceived
to be serving the general purposes of the on-line world.
Q: So what's the ultimate check
A: The technological ability to
do it without them. And that exists.
Q: But ICANN controls the DNS.
A: Yes, [but] look at RealNames,
that's [a] solution. That's a technical solution that creates
a sort of meta-DNS. And that's just one example. I've seen a
variety of different acts, if you will, that would eliminate
the necessity of the ultimate buck stopping at ICANN servers.
But right now, the convenient thing to do is to have that go
on being the case until such time as it's widely believed that
they're not doing a good job. And at that point I think you'll
see other solutions arrive.
Q: Is ICANN's process of having
meetings all over the world helpful?
A: I think it's helpful. It skews
the process to some extent, and I don't know a way around this,
by meeting all over the world, they tend to favor the people
who have the money to fly all over the world. And they may get
the ordinary users in Cairo next week, but I'm not sure how
large and well-informed and vital the Egyptian (and maybe it
is, maybe this is just a prejudice) on-line community is. I
tend to think that … however large or well-informed they are,
they're probably not going to be heard quite as clearly as the
folks from Microsoft and Sun and AOL and the internet industry.
And that is a concern in general. I think that there is a clear
distinction to be drawn between the internet industry and the
internet society. The internet industry has one set of goals
and principles and the common netizens have, I think, another
one. And part of the job that ICANN has is to try to make certain
that the ordinary netizens are served, in addition to the so-called
Q: The stakeholders are the internet
A: Yes. Which is how governments
tend to define the interested parties. I mean they look at other
institutions, they don't look at individuals.
Q: So ICANN is structurally skewed
to weigh stakeholder interests more heavily?
A: I would have a hard time coming
up with a solution to that problem. I mean, I don't think that
that's a conspiracy on anybody’s part and I don't think we're
trying to put English on the ball or tilt the deck or anything.
It's just a natural outgrowth of the fact that they meet all
over the place, and meeting all over the place seems like the
sensible thing to do because they're an international body.
Q: What group of stakeholders is
least actively involved and/or most underrepresented?
A: Almost by definition, it's the
ones that you can't think of.
And there are plenty of them, I assume. We're talking
about the whole human race here. And the human race doesn't
define itself conveniently into a few internet corporations
and a few public interest groups like EFF. There are a lot of
other people on-line and they haven't perhaps even identified
themselves as having a stake or may not even be aware that there
are processes behind all these venues that they frequent.
Is ICANN Governance? (Part II)
Q: The current debate over internet
governance often focuses on ICANN. Is that the right focus?
A: I don't know that that's the
wrong focus. That's certainly … if nothing else, this is a good
area to focus on because it's critical.
It matters what happens here. This is all coming to a
head at a time when a lot of traditional institutions that never
took the internet seriously before are suddenly finding that
they have to. And they're
expecting to have the same kind of authority that they've had
traditionally, and are hurt, baffled, and confused when they
don't. And [they] are becoming aggressive. And how we deal with
those acts of aggression will determine whether or not cyberspace
goes on being a free place or gradually becomes a hostage of
the powers that work.
Is Consensus the Right Standard?
Q: What do you think of ICANN's
use of consensus as a standard for decision-making?
A: That's what's worked so far.
That's how the IETF has worked, that's how the World Wide Web
Consortium works, that's how most of the bodies that have been
involved in creation and governance of the internet have worked
to this point.
Q: Define consensus.
A: I think consensus is where people
decide that it's time to quit arguing and start deploying. ...
Consensus is not a state of unanimous agreement. Consensus is
often characterized by unanimous exhaustion. … It's how things
are. I think that there comes a point in most debates where,
if you've actually got business to do and you're not just a
debating society, where everybody decides it's time to get on
with it and ship so to speak. So at that point, stop the discussion
and ship what you've got. And that is consensus. I think that
the important thing here is to differentiate consensus from
other approaches to dispute resolution. One of which is obviously
autocracy, which is certainly the most efficient. Voltaire said
that the best government was benign tyranny modified by occasional
assassination. And I'm not sure he was wrong about that. But
then you have democracy, which I tend to think of as another
form of tyranny: the tyranny of the majority. And then you have
the lumpiest, slowest and most irritating of all, which is consensus.
Q: It's also probably the least
A: You know, I'm not a great fan
of efficiency in government.
Q: So why consensus?
A: Because consensus is, I think,
is most likely to be the one that is fair, and certainly is
most likely to be the one that ideas are best equipped to make
their way through, where the strong idea is most likely to dominate
rather than the strong human being or the strong structural
practice, [i.e. the ] political model of the traditional … democratic
GOVERNANCE: A Marketplace
Q: So you're proposing a marketplace
A: I'm proposing that we recognize
that it's there, that it's working.
And before we try to impose something else, we might
step back for a bit and pay some attention to how the thing
that we've got is working. And my own belief is that if ain't
broke, we shouldn't fix it. And so far it ain't broke, at least
not to my thinking. I mean I spend most of my time with EFF
trying to keep people from fixing things that don't need to
be fixed. People in traditional governments that want to assert
their power by coming in and fixing a problem that may or may
not exist, usually with tools they don't have.
Q: For example?
A: The Communications Decency Act
is a beautiful case in point.
As far as I can tell, what that would have made illegal
was saying things on-line that that I have heard many, many
times in the Senate dining room. And they had absolutely no
right to tell people in the on-line world that they couldn't
say the words that members of Congress commonly say themselves.
And they, furthermore, had no means of enforcing it. And finally,
they didn't have jurisdiction. And I didn't see that there was a problem in
the first place. I mean, yeah there's pornography on-line; but
there's pornography on every newsstand in New York. But can
regulate sales in real world It strikes me that people underage
start becoming interested in pornography at a certain fairly
predictable point in their hormonal development, and at that
point they get pornography one way or the other. There wasn't
an internet when I was 13, but it struck me that there was plenty
[of pornography] around at that point, and probably was for
a 13 year old boy in Pompeii. Again, I think the ultimate way
to deal with those kinds of social issues is with a social response,
and not with a structural response. If you don't want your kids
looking at pornography, raise them to think that it's distasteful.
Don't tell the government to make certain that they can't see
Q: The marketplace of ideas is also
subject to capture, isn't it?
A: I think it is. I mean I'm worried
that it is. And I think that's a lot of the issue that we're
confronting with ICANN at the moment.
Will ICANN go on being an independent, fair arbiter,
or will it be captured by a few powerful interests? And I don't
know that we have the answer to that yet. Fortunately, the personalities
who are involved are, I would say, relatively immune to the
blandishments of large corporate power. I can't guarantee that
it's always going to be like that.
See, the internet adopted this fairly sublime style of
governance at a point when nobody took it seriously. The question
is can it maintain that abstraction now that it's clearly where
all the money is?
Q: How can we maintain the internet so that it can?
A: Well, I think partly by trusting people that we think of as being
wise and good. You know the Vint Cerfs of the world. Anybody
who knows Vint Cerf knows that Vint Cerf is a wise and good
man who is not particularly vulnerable to bribery, flattery,
or anything except what he feels is going to be the best thing
for the internet. And that is true I would say by and large
of the folks who are the pioneers of this environment. The question is whether or not they have been
able to transmit that culture to the next generations. I think
there is evidence that they have in the form of somebody like
Tim Berners-Lee who is much younger than Vint Cerf but nevertheless,
I would say, is very similar in terms of his wisdom and decency.
Q: Would Jon Postel be a good example?
A: Jon Postel was obviously the
perfect model. I mean there was a man of such consummate wisdom
and decency that … he held an enormous amount of power and nobody
ever thought to gainsay that power because everybody respected
him. Everybody knew that he acted purely out of the interests
of the internet.
Q: What are our alternatives if
ICANN is captured by corporate interests?
A: Then we have to come up with
alternate solutions to the problems that are not so vulnerable
to corporate manipulation. … One potential concern that I have
is that there be enough NT servers in the world so that Microsoft
could say, alright we're going to start writing TCP/IP in a
way that is optimized for NT, if you really want to get a bit
quickly from A to B, you have to use our flavor of TCP/IP, and
you have to use NT servers. And once they've done that, then
they are in a position to start regulating the flow of bits
and cyberspace is no longer a cloud, it becomes a series of
channels that are monitored and controlled by Microsoft and
its allies. Now, at that point, it would be incumbent upon us
to come up with a better technical solution that is faster and
most comprehensive and uses an open model, which shouldn't be
that hard to do. I'm convinced that an open system is always
going to be more powerful than a closed one.
Q: Like Linux?
A: ... Linux and the formation of
Linux and the maintenance of Linux and the growth of Linux is
a pretty good case of technarchy at work. I mean yes, there
is Linus Torvalds, but there is also Linus Torvalds and a million
completely anonymous coders in whom ideas are developing and
among whom the stronger ideas are coming to the forefront and
Q: But it develops more slowly.
A: When you consider what was involved
and the resources that were behind it, it didn't take that long
really. It was pretty rapid, and that was just when it was basically
one guy trying to write an operating system for the world. That
was the long, hard part when it was just Linus Torvalds. Now
that it's become a community of people working on it, I think
it's another matter.
Q: But there's still going to a
problem of potential capture.
A: There's always going to be a
negotiation. You have Linux on one hand and Red Hat on the other.
And they're actually necessary to one another. Now, if Red Hat
begins to become monopolistic in its marketing and its direction
over the writing of Linux, then somebody else has to come along
and do a better job of making sure that the system is open.
in Real Space vs. Laws in Cyberspace
Q: Is there a difference between
laws in real space and laws in cyberspace?
A: There's a big difference. Laws
in cyberspace are hard to enforce, very hard to enforce because
you don't have a body that you can enforce them on necessarily.
… Laws traditionally have been passed by governments that had
clear jurisdictions and had things that they could do to the
people and institutions in those jurisdictions had penalties
that they could assess, sanctions that they could impose, those
kind of things. It's very difficult to do that if you don't
know where the event that you're trying to regulate is taking
place. You don't know who's doing it. You don't know whether
it lies in your jurisdiction or not, you don't know whether
it affects your jurisdiction or not. So laws in that sense of
the term, I don't think, are particularly useful in cyberspace.
Now ethical understandings, unwritten laws, codes (as in code
of the west or as in computer code), those are another matter.
Q: Codes ...
A: Understandings, widely held views.
Q: But isn't there a big difference
between “understandings” and computer codes?
A: Yes and no. An API is kind of
like an understanding, it may be an understanding, the construction
which is dominated by the entity that produces the code, but
it is still: this is a programming interface, we understand
that, we all agree that that's the programming interface for
this particular piece of software. So it's not completely dissimilar.
… If you take the open software model, there are many inventors.
Or if you take the internet model, the way in which the internet
was developed, the idea that the was a father of the internet
is kind ridiculous. You have Vint Cerf, who was an important
figure, or Bob Kahn or Dave Farber, or anyone of about 35 people
I could name. And hundreds of thousands of others who I couldn't
name. But the fact is that the internet was developed by a lot
of different people. TCP/IP is the creation of many, many different
What is the Internet’s Greatest Promise?
Q: What is the internet's greatest
A: My God. I think that this is
the most extraordinary thing that's happened in the history
of humanity. What it's greatest promise is is beyond my comprehension
…. We're talking about creating an organism that is based on
all human mind, the collective organism of consciousness. And
that's not just a promise, I think that's very quickly becoming
a reality, and that's a very big deal. Very.
Q: Was the development of this kind
of technology foreseeable?
A: Yes, [Pierre] Teilhard de Chardin
foresaw it. Indeed, if you look at the writings in the early
days of telegraphy I think there were a number of people who
saw it then. Nathaniel Hawthorne foresaw it, writing about the
world becoming a giant brain way back in the 1850's. And when
I first read Teilhard de Chardin, I was convinced that he was
talking about something that would come. I didn't know how it
would come, and it wasn't until I first saw the Arpanet that
I realized that this is how it was coming.
BACKGROUND IN INTERNET ISSUES
Q: How did you get involved with
A: I was interested in community
and I wanted to find out what the Dead Heads were doing and
how they were creating community. …
I just got on-line and started looking around and gradually
thought that something was going on here that was socially interesting
and politically interesting and started writing about it. People
started taking things that I wrote and passing them around.
Gradually over a very short time I became as much of an expert
as anybody. I didn't have any credentials. I didn't have anything
but a voice and a way of looking at things that other people
found useful. … That's what it's about. A broke down cattle
rancher from Wyoming with no background whatsoever can become
an internet guru in a fairly short period of time on the basis
of nothing but the strength of his ideas.
General Views on the U.S. Government
Q: How do your views apply more
broadly to the U.S. government?
A: Well I don't know what the solution
is at this point. Certainly democracy is not the solution. I
mean we have democracy and it's working grotesquely well. You've
got a government that reacts to every hysterical whim of the
populace and the populace is being whipped into one hallucinatory
frenzy after another by media. And it's completely out of touch
with anything that I would call reality.
The Marketplace of Ideas and the Media
Q: Isn't the media a reflection
of the marketplace of ideas?
A: That's not the marketplace of
ideas. The media are not an open market. The media are a very
closed market. The mass media are very few outlets for information
that have a clear and definable goal in cultivating human attention
since they're selling the attention of the audience to the advertisers
. So trying to get the truth out there is not part of their
brief. Cultivating human attention is what they do, and that's
best done by fear, sex, and violence.
Q: How do we prevent that from happening
to the internet?
A: I think we prevent that from
happening to the internet by the very nature of the beast, which
is that it's a completely open channel to everybody. It doesn't
require a lot of money to be a broadcaster.
It doesn't require anything. … The idea that you have
to have some sort of economic weight in order to have a voice
is a holdover from the broadcast period. It's an industrial
idea. I'm not saying my megaphone is exactly the same size as
Time Warners, but it may be pretty close.
Worst Case Scenario
Q: What's the worst thing that could
happen to the internet?
A: The worst thing is that it [the
internet] could somehow become the complete slave of a few corporate
interests and that everything that travels through it is owned
by somebody. That it's all owned content and nobody's capable
of copying anything or passing it on their friends and all discourse
is somehow commercialized and mediated, which is precisely what
the traditional media are trying to do, and traditional governments
and traditional everything. But I'm pretty confident that we'll
A: Because we're smarter then them.
Q: “We” being?
A: The people who care about this
stuff. The party of the future rather than the party of the
Does the Internet Need Government or Governance?
Q: Does the internet need government?
Q: Does the internet need governance?
Q: What sort of governance?
A: Governance of the sort that it's
getting. Governance by the broad consensus of social interaction.
The overall open interplay of self-interest. And I think that
this is an environment where that may turn out to be a good
bit less easily hijacked to the needs and devices of a few than
self-interest has been in the physical world.
Q: What about dispute resolution?
A: People often find ways to resolve
dispute pretty well if they don't have somebody to turn to.
I found that with my own kids, realizing that all children are
lawyers and that they were constantly trying to litigate, I
realized that I could do what the Supreme Court does regularly
and simply refuse to hear the case. And it's amazing how good
they get at solving their dispute when they find out that I'm
not going to hear the case. … One of them had to be wilier than
the other, and eventually they had to deal with it. … The good
thing about cyberspace is that physical force is never an element.
That's the problem with conflict resolution in the physical
world: sooner or later somebody pulls a gun. Pulling a gun is
not going to get you anywhere in cyberspace. … So far I see
something like the EFF doing quite well against the combined
governments of the physical world and the copyright assembly
where they've got us outnumbered in terms of resources many
hundreds of times, many orders of magnitude, but we have the
virtue of being right and so far that still counts for something.