PERSONAL BACKGROUND IN INTERNET
Does the Internet Need Governance?
b. Is ICANN Governance?
Reifying “We the People”
Alternate Models of Governance
Laws in Real Space vs. Laws
Defining ICANN’s Constituency
Who are the Stakeholders?
Fear of Capture
The Worst ICANN Can Do
Open or Closed?
Contract as Foundation
What is the Internet’s Greatest Promise?
Preserving Open Spirit
Achieving Its Promise
Open vs. Closed Architectures
February 24, 2000
GOVERNANCE: Does the Internet
Q: Is a formal internet governance structure necessary for
A: … I think we need to figure out some kind of common way
of doing things.
GOVERNANCE: Is ICANN Governance?
Q: Is ICANN a form of governance?
A: … ICANN handles mainly the domain name registration system
and it does seem to be engaged in formal governance. Yeah, it
seems to me like a formal governance. It's trying to say that
it's not governance because governance scares people; nobody
wants the internet to be governed. But it's mainly deciding
technical things. …
ICANN: Contract as Foundation
Q: When you think about ICANN and what kind of governance
structure to decide these issues and you consider that it's
basis is in contracts and Memorandums of Understandings and
they're very careful to point out that it's not a legal structure,
there's not a Constitution and there's not a free-standing legal
body, it's purely contractual, like a corporation. Do you think
that's a meaningful distinction?
A: Yes, in the sense that it's not run by any specific government
or it's not the expression of any particular pre-existing governmental
body. But it's success completely depends on how well it does,
how well it performs, whether it can actually develop as a decisional
structure that people think is legitimate in some way; legitimated
by its actions.
ICANN: Defining ICANN’s Constituency
Q: What are ICANN's constituents?
A: Well, I think there are two categories. One are the stakeholders,
and the other are the internet community at large which is not
a well defined entity. It includes the future in some significant
sense. So there are those people who, those interests that now
have their mission tied up with how the business of ICANN gets
done, and then there are those who are the beneficiaries of
ICANN: Who are the Stakeholders?
Q: Who are the stakeholders?
A: Well, I thought of them initially as the people who have
gotten us to where we are now. The people who, the entities
responsible for how the net is functioning now. And that's a
lot of different kinds of people, but they're folks intended
to be represented in the standing organizations. And the internet
community at large is intended to be represented by the directors
of ICANN who are to be at-large directors. How each of those
constituencies is actually selected so that you come down to
real people making real decisions is not obvious.
Q: How real do you think the threat of defection from either
of those two groups really is?
A: I think it's significant. The question is can ICANN perform
in such a way that it keeps those forces checked, so to speak.
There are already lots of people, I think, who think that ICANN
is a terrible idea and express themselves volubly that this
is an unauthorized, illegitimate form of power grabbing.
CONSENSUS: Defining Consensus
Q: Define consensus.
A: As long as you don't require that it be defined to rigorously,
the notion of consensus is one of approval by the bulk of people
that are affected by your actions. Then that sounds like consensus. But when you try to express it in some digital
way, like saying consensus means a certain percentage, or you
have to vote, or… then the definition crumbles away. But to
me, what they're saying about consensus is political legitimacy.
Political legitimacy is exactly what [you] were more or less
referring to: how does ICANN keep its balance in a world of
forces that would like to see it toppled. It does it by keeping
its balance with a consensus of people underneath it, forces
underneath it. Now that's just political legitimacy for any
What is the Internet’s Greatest Promise?
Q: What is the internet's greatest promise?
A: Promise in the sense that it's really going to happen or
promise in the sense that it's a hope?
A: Well I think it's hope is that it can finally reify "We"
as in "We the People" at a level that is supranational.
And to do it in a way that maintains distributive power, not
concentrated power. Whether
that's actually going to happen, it's like a contest between
Leviathan and open spirit. The promise of open spirit is there
but the lesson of history has been that … well, if it prevails
too much, it somehow manages to get crushed. Leviathan seems
pretty strong and I think that the danger is that Leviathan
actually wipes it out, that the internet becomes a means by
which some supranational government that is not distributed
winds up controlling the space.
Preserving Open Spirit
Q: What steps can we take to preserve the open spirit?
A: The key steps for me have to do with establishing the Net
as something that is bigger than any of its component parts.
And doing it by investing individual people with enough power
so that collectively it is strong enough to resist. So encryption,
for instance, I think is extraordinarily powerful, important.
The decision, will people have access to powerful encryption
and be able to use it. I think once it gets established, it
could survive. You see the battle at every point in it's way:
will copyright continue to expand in ways that chew up the public
domain, or will some balance get established where there really
is a free body of knowledge that is openly accessible to people
and where there's some dynamic process for having it grow.
Reifying “We the People”
Q: Is it fair to impose the American ideal of "We the
People" to the transnational internet?
A: I think it is. At least it seems fair to me. One way to
think of it is that it's communism without nationalism. So far,
Marx was an insightful fellow and others who studied the dynamic
by which Leviathan operates, so far the only examples we've
seen of it have been the establishment of collective action
to take over governments, and once the government is taken over,
so far nobody's figured out how to make it work right. But,
the internet somehow offers the promise of a kind of "We"
as in "We the People" that's not into governance.
So for example, the Falun Gong, that's a We, where you have
the sense of an entity of people who share some kind of commonality
that espouses not to be governmental in its nature and you can
imagine the internet being like that.
Q: Do you think that there's anything in the path ICANN has
set out for itself that's inconsistent with the getting to the
idea of an internet community that's a bigger, supranational
A: I don't myself see how ICANN is going to successfully represent
the internet community at large. I don't see a mode of selection
that is going to be possible w/o being vulnerable to capture.
Q: Capture by?
A: Capture by corporate interests. Capture by the kinds of
interest politics that we see played out in our own political
life. Captured by companies that are willing to invest in drumming
up the votes to allow their interests to prevail and dominate.
You get to a certain point, you control them.
Q: What kind of issues do you think ICANN needs to address
to minimize the influence of ... [corporate interests]?
A: One of the issues seems to me to be whether they actually
want to run the choice system on the basis of plebiscite. What
is the voting mechanism? What is the nominating mechanism? What
is the selection mechanism? The assumption so far has been that
there'll be a slate of candidates and there'll be some kind
of internet election where people on the internet will be able
to vote and those votes will be it. So far I haven't been able
to imagine that working in a way that it seems to me that it's
likely to work.
ICANN: The Worst ICANN Can Do
Q: What do you see as the greatest possible damage ICANN can
do to the hope you've described? ...
A: It could achieve it. It could take a while then fail which
would be really the worst in a way. It could build up credibility
and power and then lose it by capture, for example. Or it could
flop right away before any big damage is done, and then we'll
go on to something else. I guess the biggest danger is that
it could entrench a structure of governance and then get taken
GOVERNANCE: Alternate Models
Q: ... What other types of governance structures could you
A: No, I haven't got a great idea. I thought that it was a
beautiful vision in its way and the challenge was whether it
could be realized. It's
not that I've got a better vision.
in Real Space vs. Laws in Cyberspace
Q: Is there a difference between laws in real space and laws
A: I don't think so, no. I think that the challenge
the internet poses is figuring out how you can get along without
law, almost. It's like recognizing that law is a means of
controlling behavior and that law in cyberspace is not the same
as it is in an existing national empire where there's a structured
authority head that delivers edicts and backs them with sanctions.
In a way, the internet challenges people to figure out how to
get along without having a single authority figure. So to somehow
work in a more collective way that is actually expressed in
the architecture of the internet. To me, … it's where we touch
the future the clearest in terms of constitutional terms, development
terms, the question of whether we can actually do something
that would, will, be a structure that's lasting. It just seems
like a very big and open question, that so far people are working
on, but I don't have enormous confidence that it's going to
come out to a great place in the end.
BACKGROUND IN INTERNET ISSUES
Q: Can you tell us about your background and how you got involved
in internet issues?
A: My connection is largely just an expression of being a
teacher and seeing a medium come into existence that potentially
empowers teachers to reach much wider audiences, and an interest
in wanting to use it for that. So, I don't know, … I'd say it's
a combination of a political interest of thinking that this
is the environment in which we're going to live in the future,
and the issues of the environment are how do you maintain freedom
and order and recognizing it calls for a new balance. It looks
for something new. On the other hand I have an interest that's
more mathematical in nature. That is, what we seem to be doing
is very like a form of programming it's actually building structure.
The combination of the two leaves this challenge of well how
can you build this structure so that it preserves freedom and
potentials for intimacy and diversity and all the things that
we like to think of as part of freedom.
INTERNET: Achieving Its Promise
Q: You seem somewhat pessimistic when you discuss the likelihood
that the internet will achieve the hope you've articulated.
Is that based on the lessons of history or personal experience?
A: It's both. The history of each new medium … is that there's
always the hope that this will deliver us and initially people
are frightened of it and excited by it, but after a while it
in some form turns out to be business as usual. I mean, what
is this new form? Is the new form actually fundamentally different
from the old form. You can certainly see that with the internet
as a process that's apparently going on. … To me the question
is how far will the process go of closing down the space? Here's
the way I think about it: Cyberspace doesn't exist until you
build it. It's not like Columbus discovers the Americas, and
there are all these great riches there and you just have to
exploit them. It literally doesn't exist until you construct
it. And how you construct it has a great deal to do with what
it's going to be like.
Open vs. Closed Architectures
There seem to be two basic architectures: one is an open architecture
and one is closed. And
classically, you can't really have one without the other. I
don't believe that you can live in a completely open environment.
It's like living in a desert; you need some place for shelter.
But it also seems true that you can't live in a completely closed
environment. If the whole world is closed, there's no air to
breath or water to drink …. There's nothing free from which
to be sheltered. So somehow, achieving a balance between open
and closed seems to be the goal. The worry is that the forces
of the closed societies and organisms - the corporate closed
philosophy is capable of expressing itself in a way that actually
takes over. So at this point I believe that industry is figuring
out that almost everything having to do with information has
value, and therefore the instinct is to make property out of
it. But if you make property out of everything, then I think
you've destroyed yourself. Where is the public space going to
be in cyberspace? Where is it going to come from and who is
going to maintain it? How is it going to be kept in balance
with the private space?
The danger that I see is that so far the internet developed
for a while as an open place, and then the commercial world
discovered it. It's not quite an accurate account, but in some
sense it gives you the flavor of it. Suddenly there's this huge
inflation of the commercial part of the internet, with capital
pouring into it. It's amazing; it's still continuing. But there's
been no similar development of the public domain side of the
internet. There's just been huge development of the dot com
domain. And now that you look to the dot edu domain: it hasn't
really developed that much and it almost looks as if it's going
to start developing as a form of the dot com domain now. So
what's there going to be left? When you look at the great domains
of cyberspace, is the dot com domain going to eat the whole
world up? I think it's possible; it's quite possible.
Q: In the difference between an open and closed world, where
do you put ICANN's trajectory? Whose interests does it represent?
What is it fighting for? Where does ICANN fit on the open vs.
A: Well it's supposedly founded on open principles - the White
Paper principles. And in spirit it's fighting for openness.
But its task is to dance with the devil and see if it can succeed
in making the dance an interest one.