[Politech logo]

Politech is the oldest Internet resource devoted to politics and technology. Launched in 1994 by Declan McCullagh, the mailing list has chronicled the growing intersection of culture, technology, politics, and law. Since 2000, so has the Politech web site.

ICANN to be anti-terrorist Net-cop? and a response from R. Forno

The backstory here is that ICANN ex-president Mike Roberts inadvisedly said 
last week:

>It's serious. It's first things first. It's about keeping people from 
>being killed by terrorist plots hatched over the net. All of a sudden it 
>matters that you know what you are talking about. If you are an Internet 
>engineer, what about nailing down the RFC's needed for secure new 
>functionality in the DNS? If you are a root server host organization CEO, 
>all of a sudden being a volunteer in Jon Postel's army takes on new meaning.



Date: Mon, 29 Oct 2001 11:13:54 -0500
Subject: Response to Mike Roberts
From: Richard Forno <rforno@infowarrior.org>
To: <declan@well.com>, <politech@politechbot.com>

Here's one for you Declan.....cheers, rf

Original article (with hyperlinked references) at

Daddy, Daddy, Can ICANN Play too?
Richard Forno
28 October 2001 : Essay #2001-10
c) 2001 by Author. Permission is granted to quote, reprint or redistribute
provided the text is not altered, and appropriate credit is given.

Summary: In a day where anything anti-terror is considered noble,
legitimite, and powerful, Mike Roberts wants the entity he co-founded to get
its fair share.

"Clemenceau said war was too important to be left to the generals. When he
said that, 50 years ago, he might have been right. But today, war is too
important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the
training, nor the inclination for strategic thought.
- General Ripper to Wing Commander Mandrake in "Doctor Strangelove" (1964)

In his statement to the world at the Joint Session of Congress on September
20th, President Bush looked square at the camera, and established a new
truism: you are either with the United States, or you are with terrorists.

This warning fell on very receptive ears for supporters and alumni of the
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the
controversial Clinton-conceived entity charged with overseeing internet
stability, domain name administration, and protocols. To ICANN supporters,
it seemed the perfect opportunity to try and expand the influence and power
of an organization thatís caused more headaches for the Internet community
than pop-under advertisements for X-10 cameras.

In a heated message to the ALSC-Forum list, ICANN's co-founder and former
Grand Vizer and Poohbah Emeritus, Mike Roberts, formally proposed that ICANN
should be involved in the "war against terrorism." In particular, his
missive implies that ICANN should be involved in this "war" and work
toë"keep people from being killed by terrorist plots hatched over the net."
This begs the question of whether ICANN's November Board meeting will
constitute the first roll call of the Internet's Keystone Kops? Will the
squad be housed in the ICANN offices at Marina Del Rey? (Will each Kop be
issued their own TLD as part of their basic equipment issue?)

Roberts' message sounded like he's running for political office, perhaps as
- God help us - an advisor on Homeland Security to Tom Ridge?

For those unaware, Roberts is the former leader of an organization that -
contrary to its established mantra - routinely operates in secret, caters to
big business,  silences its own Board members when they dissent, and invents
its rules of procedure and official corporate recordings as it goes along.
If Iím not mistaken, thatís similar to how the secret police in Soviet
Europe operated during the Cold War with impugnity, resulting in established
censorship and the ruling class catering to wealthy special interests while
oppressing the general population.

Roberts notes that the October 26 bill signing ceremony marked the dawn of
the "new Internet" and demise of the "old Internet." Those familiar with the
legislation understand that the surveillance powers enacted into law have
been technicaly feasible for years by law enforcement and computer criminals
alike. From a technical perspective, itís nothing new. Granted, there is
expanded potential for abuse by law enforcement in surveilling users, but
people should finally understand what us security types have said for years
- if something is deemed personal or sensitive, it should not be sent over
the Internet, or if it must, should be protected effectively from
unauthorized disclosure. Not to mention, confounding these techniques is not
difficult. Thus, as Tina Turner might say, "whatís ICANN got to do with it?"

Let Mike Roberts tell you.

He rightfully observes that these new law enforcement powers bring the
internet community (vendors, operators, and users) into the so-called 'war
on terrorism' - and as such, believes that ICANN, like many other technology
vendors, must "reconsider how this new law affects them." Contrary to
Roberts' assessment, and the cult of personality surrounding ICANN as an
entity, this new law does not promote ICANN's importance to World Order and
Public Safety, nor does it further legitimize its already-dubious existence
as the Internet's governing body.

As I said in my comments last month, ICANN in its current form, is incapable
of assuming additional responsibility until it can demonstrate its
competence with what itís been chartered to do, and - more importantly - the
Internet community can trust it. (In other words, take care of its own
affairs first.) ICANN recently announced a renewed organizational push to
examine Internet security matters - yet, there are few on its
decision-making Board that have any knowledge of security issues, and even
fewer that have been even remotely involved with operational Internet
security at all. Like CEOs and Cabinet-level people, ICANN as a whole is the
last group we in the Internet community want to review and implement
security policies, but nobody seems to understand this. The blind could
quite possibly be leading the blind here.

Many could easily interpret this as Roberts' pining or whining (at ICANN's
request, no doubt) to find a way for ICANN, an entity already on shaky
ground in the eye of the Internet community,  to capitalize in something
-anything- considered "anti-terror." After all, everybody wants a piece of
the anti-terror pie - it's the biggest, baddest budget right now and viewed
by many as "free money" if the correct business or policy case can be made
to get some of it. (Besides, if ICANN, and the United States, are against
terrorists, and you are against ICANN, that would make you a terrorist
supporter and thus against the United States, right? How convienient.)

According to Roberts, ICANN needs to "keep people from being killed by
terrorist plots hatched over the net." Such actions are far outside ICANNís
charter and competencies - proactive posturing for anti-terror is a function
of the national security and intelligence communities that draws on a
diverse suite of sources, methods, and resources to stave off potential
terrorist plots and other threats. Does ICANN plan to become the Internet
Gestapo, CyberStasi, or petition to join the US intelligence community?
Roberts rightly notes that protective measures for root servers are
certainly necessary and fall under ICANNís purview - critical world servers
canít be located in basements and broom closets. ICANN would be correct to
develop standards and policies to safeguard those critical systems. However,
is he proposing ICANN enter the content censorship business and establishing
what constitutes "terrorist information" on the global Internet? If so, how?

While ICANN has a role in root server security, it is (as it should be) a
very limited one; namely, developing policy and standards for root server
security, not conducting operations to save all mankind from the evils of
Internet-based terror. As ICANN Director Karl Auerbach wisely observes, not
only is ICANN in "serious need of reform" but with regard to the Roberts
Missive, should be more of an "observer" than a "player" in this critical
area. A career technologist, Auerbach has posted some rather well-contrived
suggestions for ICANNís role and improving the security and stability of the
Internet as his website. Yes, Karl is one of the few voices of reason,
sanity, candor, and occasional dissent on ICANN's Board. He doesn't drink
the Kool Aid served at ICANN meetings very often, either.

Roberts' wraps up his missive with a grave warning to the At-Large Study
community (ALSC), many of whose views run contrary to ICANN. He admonishes
them to be "prepared to compromise your goals" in light of the
post-September 11th, anti-terrorist-centric ICANN organization he is trying
to craft. Translation: As always, if you're against us, be prepared to be
chastised, ignored, or steamrolled by us so we can stay in the spotlight and
in-charge. Resistance is futile. (Remember President Bush's admonition

The missive concludes with Roberts' saying ICANN doesn't deserve the "abuse"
it receives on various e-mail lists and public forums. This is nothing more
than the Dot Pot calling the Dot Kettle black. Roberts is shedding crocodile
tears here, and no sympathy should be given. The entity he helped establish
is starting to publicly show its limitations and self-imposed
shortcomings....let the truth be heard! While some forums are more
inflammatory than others, the underlying premise remains the same - and
Roberts is old enough to know that the truth can sometimes hurt. Using
anti-terrorism as the impetus to further legitimize ICANN's self-perceived
importance to the world is ludicrous, and further demonstrates the
immaturity of its corporate philosophy and self-serving groupthink. As
mentioned above, comments like these lead many of us believe Roberts is
angling for elected or appointed political office somewhere, using his
involvement with ICANN as a personalized bully pulpit.

Mister Roberts admittedly reads Thomas Friedman's column in the New York
Times. He must have overlooked Friedman's October 19th observation on
America's new adversaries. "Because this new system [of terror] is an
incredible force-multiplier, it can super-empower evil people so they can
destabilize a superpower."

Replace "of terror" with "net administration" and you've got ICANN. At least
according to Roberts.

c) 2001 by Author. Permission is granted to quote, reprint or redistribute
provided the text is not altered, and appropriate credit is given.

POLITECH -- Declan McCullagh's politics and technology mailing list
You may redistribute this message freely if you include this notice.
Declan McCullagh's photographs are at http://www.mccullagh.org/
To subscribe to Politech: http://www.politechbot.com/info/subscribe.html
This message is archived at http://www.politechbot.com/

Enter your email address to join Politech, Declan McCullagh's moderated technology and politics announcement list:

Return to politechbot.com