U.N. finds Net governance tempting

The future of ICANN is on the line as the United Nations becomes more interested in taking over some of the organization's functions.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
2 min read
NEW YORK--A task force that intends to increase the United Nations' involvement with running the Internet is convening here Thursday, its first meeting since VeriSign filed a lawsuit against the group that now oversees domain names and addresses.

The meeting comes as the international body is growing more interested in taking over some of the functions of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and ICANN Chairman Vint Cerf will offer opening remarks.

The United Nations' goal has met with firm opposition from large sectors of the U.S. business community.

"The U.N. tends to be a very slow moving vehicle," Elana Broitman, Register.com's policy director, said in a recent interview. "It's very bureaucratic. Frankly it doesn't give the private sector a seat at the table very often. And so from that perspective, it's highly unlikely we'll see the same kind of innovation and efficiency that we see in ICANN."

The agenda for Thursday's U.N. meeting includes a discussion titled "Accumulated Concerns, Perspectives, and Exploring How We Can Cooperate." Domain names, technical standards, network security, intellectual property, privacy, e-commerce, free speech, taxation, and "cultural and linguistic diversity" also are listed as topics for discussion.

VeriSign's lawsuit, filed last month, lists 43 pages of grievances, alleging that ICANN repeatedly thwarted VeriSign in its attempts to cash in on its master database for .com and .net. VeriSign also accuses ICANN of antitrust violations, a charge that could imperil its ability to continue to operate in its current form.

The United Nations has already made moves to position one of its agencies, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), as a candidate for an ICANN takeover. A recent presentation in Geneva by Tim Kelly, the head of the ITU's strategy and policy unit, made a pitch for the organization to supplant ICANN, at least in part. It touted the strengths of the ITU as neutrality, "international legitimacy, credibility and accountability," and "observance of due process."

In an recent interview, Cerf said he did not see any reason for the United Nations to get more involved "as long as we stay well within the ambit of our responsibilities."

"If VeriSign gets what they want, ICANN becomes irrelevant and you don't have anyone watching the registry operator," Christine Jones, general counsel for domain name registrar Go Daddy, said recently. "The more important player is the U.N. and the ITU, which is trying to gain control."