back to article ICANN warns UN may sideline tech community from future internet governance

The United Nations' proposed Global Digital Compact will exclude technical experts as a distinct voice in internet governance, ignoring their enormous contributions to growing and sustaining the internet, according to ICANN and two of the world's regional internet registries. The Global Digital Compact is an effort to "outline …

  1. Howard Sway Silver badge

    "The technical community is not part of civil society and it has never been"

    For an organisation like ICANN put out a statement as dumb as that is beyond stupid. Where the hell does this "technical community" exist then?

    Also, the idea that the UN is going to ensure an "open, free and secure" internet with the participation of countries in its governance where such a thing is non-existent is going to ensure that the proposal goes nowhere.-

    1. EricM

      Not stupid IMHO

      Civil society participation in such processes is about opinions, in many cases about feelings, about motivations of and affects to special interest groups, minorities, equal opportunity, etc.

      The technical feedback on the other hand is about "this will work" or "this will not work".

      Call me preoccupied (I'm an engineer ) but I think that distinction is quite important.

      Given that that both, governments and the private sector, have excessively shown that they have no problems putting magic thinking into policy, I think a technical verification by the technical community is critical when shaping a technical policy.

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Not stupid IMHO

        Given that that both, governments and the private sector, have excessively shown that they have no problems putting magic thinking into policy, I think a technical verification by the technical community is critical when shaping a technical policy.

        It's an old argument that's almost as old as the Internet. Traditionally, it's been allowed to be pretty much self-governing, which kinda goes against national interests. Plus political arguments that the current governance structure is and has been too US-centric. So basically the old ITU debate. That does much the same thing, includes the 'technical community', or at least a subset of it and has the 'advantage' of being established by custom, practice and treaty. It's far from perfect, but then again, neither is the existing Internet governance structure given the well-documented dodginess by ICANN et al.

      2. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: Not stupid IMHO

        Is ICANN being wanting to be included as part of the technical community, or is it being treated as a special interest group?

        I just ask because they tried very hard to pretend that GDPR wasn't going to exist and attempted to get their registrars in Europe to do things that broke the law in Europe where they operated. Their solution after ignoring this for 6+ years was to ask a court for permission to break the law for a few years while they figured out how to comply with the law. Presumably they missed the point that European courts don't actually have the power to grant you the permission to ignore laws, they exist to determine guilt or innocence and sentence people who are found guilty.

        Page two of that last link suggests that the GDPR fiasco was caused by ICANN being beholden to Intellectual Property lawyers and their interpretation of "this will work" or "this will not work" tended more towards an interpretation of those IP lawyers interests than of comments by the technical community.

        That would tend to undermine ICANN's position of needing a technical community involvement (as in their own private veto?) rather than being a part of wider civil society.

        The UN doesn't appear to cause planes to fall out of the sky etc, so i'm not sure why people appear inclined to believe that they'd accidentally break the internet.

        1. vekkq

          if it ain't broke, don't fix it

          > The UN doesn't appear to cause planes to fall out of the sky etc, so i'm not sure why people appear inclined to believe that they'd accidentally break the internet.

          Right now, the internet works good enough. Better wait til its broken, before changing its governance.

          1. GVFan

            Re: if it ain't broke, don't fix it

            The internet is broken! It is geared towards inflating the profits of some tech monoliths rather than serving the user base (customers?) through enticing critical masses into using services and either charging for services that were previously free (Twitter), using the commoditising the user community and selling their data (Alphabet and Meta) or relying upon the infrastructure to deliver ever-increasing bandwidth heavy content and relying upon ISPs to pass on costs to their customers (or in the UK not investing and increasing costs). And if the politicians get their way and screw up encryption by demanding backdoors it will (hopefully) be the death knell.

            1. vekkq

              Re: if it ain't broke, don't fix it

              I don't see how anything of that has something to do with Internet infrastructure governance.

        2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Not stupid IMHO

          There are many things wrong with ICANN. There have been many things wrong with it in the past.

          Removing it from Internet governance and substituting some vague UN blather will not improve the situation. A deeply flawed but still largely successful approach is better than one patently constructed from ignorance.

          I'm not one of those people who believe the UN is useless – at the very least, it helps to have a ball pit where the toddlers who govern the world can go to pull one another's hair – but this is not something they can productively take over.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        There are layers here

        ICANN is looking out for it's own interests, first and foremost, but it is important to consider the problems the proposed tripartite model the UN proposal has.

        Governments will instantly team up with commercial interests. In a 2-1 model the users (aka civil society) lose every vote. It's a participation ribbon to your own involuntary shagging.

        I'd read between the lines of any proposals that ICANN as an organization puts forward for the same reason. At the heart of the problem is that none of the steering bodies are either controlled by engineers or in the public interest. The parts of ARIN and ICANN that built the modern internet and keep it running have limited say in the day to day operations or upper level decisions in either group. APNIC is a rubber mask stretched over China and the ITU and UN are just another set of special interests trying to seize control of the internet for themselves.

        Any proposal that does not give the engineers equal say to the non-engineers will fail for technical reasons. Any system that gives governments and companies more votes than the billions of users out there is just a tool for corruption and or tyranny. The UN isn't any better than the ITU, or the US government and the shoggoths that run verisign, netsol, and godaddy.

        The internet should be governed and run by geeks and engineers in the public interest, with transparency and accountability to the population of the world. Not to a narrow set of companines and goverments who will do anything that gives them control, power, or lines their pockets.

        ICANN management will no more propose or support that than the UN or any of the great powers will. They will only point out the flaws in each others plans. So if you want a performant and open internet that isn't doomed to be a tool of evil, plan it out yourselves and then be prepared to jam that plan down all of their throats. Otherwise it will never get done.

        Shit never cleans itself off of a shoe.

        1. Peter2 Silver badge

          Re: There are layers here

          The internet should be governed and run by geeks and engineers in the public interest, with transparency and accountability to the population of the world. Not to a narrow set of companines and goverments who will do anything that gives them control, power, or lines their pockets.

          Which geeks and engineers?

          The people who came up with the concept and execution of the still wonderfully popular IPv6 rollout? Or how about the people that came up with the Great Firewall of China? Or do you actually mean "only a subset of geeks from my country, that I personally like, who also share my political opinions?"

          The UN has to represent 8 billion people on the planet, not just us.

          1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

            Re: There are layers here

            I was with you until that last line. The UN represents the almost 200 governments. It pointedly does not, and has never, represented the people. If is did, El Salvador would not have the same number of votes as India.

            This proposal is a power grab by the kleptocrats that the UN. It is being opposed by the existing kleptocrats.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: There are layers here

            People like you are to blame for the lack of speed in ipv6 rollout.

            Who'd have thought techies would get scared by an (optional) hex representation?

        2. rmstock

          Re: There are layers here

          "Shit never cleans itself off of a shoe."

          On his last day in Office, it was Obama who invented and approved the move of ICANN into the realm of UN / China and left America in tatters. He knows all about such issues.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "The technical community is not part of civil society and it has never been"

      Whilst I agree the UN delivering a free, secure, and open internet is unlikely. ICANN et al don't want them trying as they lose their stranglehold, and the whole thing will not be US-centric at a governance level anymore. So less money/influence for them. I say let them try.

      1. Yes Me Silver badge

        Re: "The technical community is not part of civil society and it has never been"

        "Internet governance" is an oxymoron, so I never worry too much about this stuff (and never have done since the so-called "Internet Governance Forum" annointed itself.)

        However, please note that ICANN doesn't have a stranglehold on the Internet. It's managed to extract large rents from idiots who believe that top level domain names matter, and I agree that this is morally no better than crypto-currency or non-fungible tokens, but the Internet is doing just fine anyway, thank you.

        It's also a long time since the Internet was "US-centric at a goverance level". I'd say that notion is at least 20 years out of date.

        Now, about "The technical community is not part of civil society and it has never been". That is indeed untrue. As long ago as the ludicrous WSIS meetings ("World Summit on the Information Society") and the preparation for them, the only seating for members of the technical community was in the area labelled "Civil Society". I know because I had to sit there (in big conference rooms in Geneva). In that sense, the ICANN etc. statement is factually untrue, and has been since the WSIS wallahs invented their curious "stakeholder" concept.

        Fortunately for all, the actual technology of the Internet has been largely unaffected by all the silly talk under the "governance" banner.

    3. t245t

      Re: "The technical community is not part of civil society and it has never been"

      Icann: “The UN Tech Envoy's statement suggests that there is a new "tripartite" model for digital cooperation, in which there are only three stakeholder groups – the private sector, governments and civil society (which includes the technical community). In other words, this model excludes the technical community as a distinct component, and overlooks the unique and essential roles played by that community's members separately and collectively.

    4. ChoHag Silver badge

      Re: "The technical community is not part of civil society and it has never been"

      Are you aware that as well as computer geeks, governments and even the private sector are wholly contained within society? And sometimes they're even civil!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Don't argue set theory

        The engineering side needs it's own seat at the table, not a shared microphone with every other NGO and activist group on the planet.

        To use the UN's own governance model, engineering needs to be at least the equivalent of a permanent security council member with veto power.

        That's not say engineers aren't part of civil society outside the realm of internet governance. They are. So are CEOs and government bureaucrats on their off hours. But if those groups get one vote each as a special interests, the people who know how the internet ACTUALLY WORKS should get three, and everyone else needs at least two. And the engineers representing need to be transparent and accountable in their selection, voting, and decision making.

        Otherwise the corrupt idiots that badly run and often ruin the rest of the world will vote as a block, as they usually do, and decide they should run the Internet too. Probably also get rich in the process.

        That brain trust is only going to make the worst version of the Internet. Expensive, exploitive, insecure and unstable. The world deserves better, but it will have to seize that future for themselves.

      2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: "The technical community is not part of civil society and it has never been"

        It's impressive how many people here are hard of thinking.

  2. b0llchit Silver badge

    Reality is overrated

    ...three stakeholder groups: the private sector, governments, and civil society.

    One can argue this is the group described by "only profits count", "manipulation and ignorance" and "no one listens to them anyway". They will exclude any technical voice because policy is not to be bound by physics, mathematics and reality.

    Or is it just shear incompetence that the reality group is to be excluded?

    1. EricM

      Re: Reality is overrated

      Applying Hanlon's Razor results in "incompetence".

      Maybe combined with a grain of Dunning-Kruger: "How hard can it be to come up with a global Internet policy? I use Facebook everyday..."

      1. b0llchit Silver badge

        Re: Reality is overrated

        Applying reverse Hanlon's Razor: Anything adequately explained by incompetence has a core of malice.

        1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

          Re: Reality is overrated

          Incompetence is ubiquitous, but it doesn't preclude malignancy.

      2. hedgie

        Re: Reality is overrated

        True, but Hanlon's Razor itself is subject to Grey's Law: "Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice".

        1. ecofeco Silver badge

          Re: Reality is overrated

          Been looking for this quote for years.

          Thanks! Have a beer on me!

          1. hedgie

            Re: Reality is overrated

            Ta. I rarely drink these days, so the odd pint or bit of good whisky are always something to savour and enjoy.

      3. TheBruce

        Re: Reality is overrated

        Dunning-Kruger aint a thing. Too much bias in the data.

  3. xyz Silver badge

    Back in 2001...

    Someone asked me what things would be like in 20 years and I said "buy guns and learn karate". My reasoning was loss of control of government funding (aka taxation) when people could stash their cash all over the planet via the internet. No tax, no government. Well that little idea got stomped on pretty quickly by HMRC et al.

    This has the same whiff about it... control and no techies to say "but, but, but...."

    1. abend0c4

      Re: Back in 2001...

      buy guns and learn karate

      It's good of you to take responsibility for both Musk and Zuckerberg, but I think the growing dystopia may have deeper roots.

      1. Antipode77

        Re: Back in 2001...

        Maybe humanity is slowly being overwhelmed by the complexity of existence.

  4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Which internet do they mean? The one that ICANN administers, however stupidly that might be every now and then, or one that the UN is going to set up for itself?

  5. IGotOut Silver badge

    So ICANN

    An incredibly corrupt and opaque organisation, is worried about losing its monopoly?

    Maybe if they weren't such a bunch of self centred cowboys, then it wouldn't of come to this.

    Can we do the same for the IOC, FIFA and the FIA?

    1. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: So ICANN

      Beer for the eloquent expression, so much more tactful than I could have put it.

      However the civil community will turn out to be those well-heeled pressure groups which win the battle to hijack the committees. Which almost certainly includes ICANN, >sigh!<

      At the end of the day, will we be able to tell the pigs from the men, around the dinner table?

    2. Glen Turner 666

      Re: So ICANN

      Although I can understand that attitude for ICANN, the regional NICs are another matter. It's difficult to think which organisation other than APNIC would be representative of the Asia-Pacific internet technical community.

  6. Robert Halloran

    Design-by-committee vs. design-by-developers

    Given the historical success of ITU "standards" in the past (X.400, X.500, the ISO protocol stack implementations) vs. the IETF counterparts (SMTP, LDAP, TCP/UDP/IP), I'd like to think there's little to worry about. Having worked some years in a Former US Telecom Monopoly firm, the mindset of "rough consensus & running code" is anathema to many gov-based entities.

  7. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Useless Numpties

    UN should be disbanded. That organisation has no credibility whatsoever.

    It's a circlejerk of yes men who are secretly worshipping Russian terrorists.

    Just close it down and turn the lights off. Will you?

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  8. Tron Silver badge

    The past was better than the future will be.

    Computing and the net empowered people at the expense of governments.

    The empire has been striking back for a while now, or hadn't you noticed. The small stuff is done incrementally, and is easily missed. The big stuff causes a flutter, but they ride it out.

    Ultimately, the net will be fully reconfigured as a mechanism of control and universal surveillance. Dumb terminals (even dumber than Chromebooks) will replace computers, and coding - as a potential threat to national security - will be fully regulated.

    The progress bar is more than half way. Enjoy what time is left.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Hunter Thompson said something about what you seem to be feeling

      "So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back"

      It's human nature to ascribe this to a moment in an optimistic movement we remember fondly. When the world seemed smaller and everyone shared the same optimism and energy. Much like the era of the middle sixties, it didn't scale. The magical freedom of the early internet had as much to do with a tiny monoculture(and in fact some of the same people) that fell apart when the rest of the great unwashed masses signed up.

      The lethal illusion was that being on the internet would turn the rest of the world into US, not the other way around. No version of a safe free and open community can survive without a protective bubble between it and instant communication with the rest of the world. Otherwise the constant din of the screaming and ravings of madmen drown out all other discussion.

      We who were there in the early days misarchitected the foundation of the Internet. It wasn't designed to work in the real world. We don't get a do over, and the world we wanted will be harder to build even as a life-raft for us because of it.

      I tap another Hunter line, also applied to the 60's summer of love and acid/drug culture, which would influence the titans of the early Internet in the SF bay area:

      "without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him seriously" could be applied to Tim Berners Lee and most of his utopian bobble heads.

      As it turns out building a giant megaphone that can howl at the population of the earth in real time has some terrible consequences. Like the disease and addiction that hounded the bright eyed seekers that thought they had unlocked a new world order of peace and love. The party was fun while it lasted but the hangover is a real bitch, and that bitch won't fit back in the bottle she came out of.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: blah blah pseudo intellectual bollox blah

        Jesus H Christ! Could you contemplate getting over yourself for a second?

  9. ecofeco Silver badge

    LOL! Well then can try

    Apparently they seem to not know that computers control EVERY aspect of modern civilization.

    Every. Single. Thing.

    And it's ONLY the geeks that understand how it all works.

    That said, ICANN are still wankers.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: LOL! Well then can try

      > And it's ONLY the geeks that understand how it all works.

      And that's why they hate them.

      They don't understand why they can't write laws which demand that encryption should allow the sender and recipient to exchange data in such a way that the appropriate government officials snoop any time they like. These damn geeks keep pointing out inconvenient truths like "that ain't possible". Why don't these geeks understand we live in a post truth world and so this shouldn't be an impediment.

  10. prh99

    Let me guess the ones pushing for this are a group of not so free countries, just like last time the U.N tried to hijack the internet.

  11. streaky

    Don't see the issue.

    The internet as it stands isn't fit for purpose anyway, we can rebuild, we have the technology, without them.

    This'll be China BTW.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    2016 - the US Department of Commerce hand full control over the IANA functions to ICANN

    Sounded OK to me at the time. Not so much looking back. Uft-8 in the browser bar? The came out as default at first in most browsers, although I believe most have it turned off by default now.

    1. stiine Silver badge

      Re: 2016 - the US Department of Commerce hand full control over the IANA functions to ICANN

      Well, yes, but that's because they now use UTF-16.

  13. TheMeerkat

    Why we still see UN as a legitimate and useful organisation?

    It did not even managed to condemn Russian invasion of Ukraine.

    It is in the pockets of the undemocratic regimes.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wonderful -- Until You See Some Definitions!

    UN Quote: "outline shared principles for an open, free and secure digital future for all."

    Define open.

    Define free.

    Define secure.

    Yup.......I'll get on board once I see and agree some definitions:

    (1) "Open" - see Edward Snowden, 2013

    (2) "Free" - see the widespread illegal harvesting, packaging and selling on of personal information. "Free" has a quite unacceptable price!

    (3) "Secure" - really? Wide open AWS data, Equifax, Solar Winds.....please give me a break!!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wonderful -- Until You See Some Definitions!

      Oh....I forgot...

      Define "all".

  15. tapanit

    Look at the bright side

    It doesn't sound so bad to me. Without technical community involvement they'll inevitably break the Internet for good, and we'll all be better off without it. Cheers!

  16. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    No reason to panick

    It's the UN. Nobody listens to them anyway, and when they should say something important, they keep quiet.

    Let them spout on about ruling the Internet. The existing bodies can just politely take the paper and sit on it. After all, the UN has no enforcement capability.

    The UN has never changed anything, it certainly won't start here.

  17. Jim Whitaker

    "The technical community is not part of civil society and it has never been,"

    Of course technicians should have an input to the governance and discussions but do we really want anyone who will say that they are not part of "civil society" to have any conclusive hold over something as important as the Internet?

  18. ludicrous_buffoon

    On that one

    "The technical community is not part of civil society and it has never been"

    I have a degree in social avoidance and spend nearly all of my spare time playing with computers. Nothing excites me more than playing with my soldering iron. When I discuss my technical passions with strangers they flee. They may have a point.

    1. teebie

      Re: On that one

      That's very much the interpretation I took from the statement.

      "These geeks are sooo rude. They keep pointing out how unworkable my policies are"

  19. TheMaskedMan Silver badge

    Civil society is all very well in moderation. It's the Uncivil aspects that I'm not too keen on.

  20. Matthew "The Worst Writer on the Internet" Saroff

    How Can They Both Lose

    Seriously, between the two of them, I want a 3rd option.

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