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Whither WGIG?

Susan Crawford

Now, I don't like the word "whither" any more than you do. But this Reuters article was circulating yesterday and it seemed to call for a "whither."

It's a short story, so let's do a close reading.

A U.N.-sponsored panel aims to settle a long-running tug of war for control of the Internet by July and propose solutions to problems such as cyber crime and email spam, panel leaders said on Monday.

We're going to decide what "internet governance" is by July? And we're going to propose solutions to cybercrime and email spam? Wow. Here is the preliminary report [pdf] that Nitin Desai, Chairman of the Working Group on Internet Governance, has transmitted to the WSIS Preparatory Committee and the ITU. This report isn't as brave as the Reuters story; in fact, it seems to be quite limited — although WGIG is still planning to submit "proposals for action.. on the governance of the Internet."

Right now, the most recognizable Internet governance body is a California-based non-profit company, the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

But developing countries want an international body, such as the U.N.'s International Telecommunication Union (ITU), to have control over governance — from distributing Web site domains to fighting spam.

"There is an issue that is out there and that needs to be resolved," said Nitin Desai, chairman of working group and special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan

It's clear that Desai has ICANN in his sights. But ICANN has absolutely nothing to do with "fighting spam," and even having that subject reflected in the Reuters story reflects some deep confusion on someone's part.

ICANN doesn't do internet governance. ICANN makes recommendations about what gets added to the root (new TLDs) and has some role in allocating IP addresses, but ICANN absolutely does not approve new internet protocols. ICANN has nothing to do with how packets get routed or any other key internet agreements. ICANN gets the respect and deference of ISPs and network operators — a very thin (and unwritten) form of respect. There's no governance there — and, so, there's nothing for the UN to take over.

So, fine, solve cybercrime and spam by July. It will be interesting to see how this happens — and what on earth ICANN has to do with this effort.

By Susan Crawford, Professor, Cardozo Law School in New York City
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Share your comments

Re: Whither WGIG? Jacqueline  –  Mar 02, 2005 8:32 AM PDT

Hi
I read the Reuters post, but my reading took a different view to yours - I wasn't clear to me that the WGIG has ICANN in its sights, I didn't see the quote that supports the contention that the UN thinks that ICANN has anything to do with fighting spam…

Basically, it seems as if the Reuters person who wrote this article was highly confused.

Also - the working group has been at this for a while now, so July may not be as ridiculous a timeframe as you seem to suggest…

Re: Whither WGIG? Timothy Denton  –  Mar 24, 2005 5:03 PM PDT

Susan:
This is more hallucinatory nonsense from the U.N., which is still in shock that anything happens outside the framework of itself. "Internet governance" keeps the chattering classes talking; that's all it does.

Timothy Denton

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