For the last decade or more, internet activists, organizations, and governments have expressed concerns about the possibility of the U.S being able to control the Internet, based on the location of the primary root files and governing Global Domain Name System in the U.S. (which funded the early system, and remains a primary source of operating funds). Until 2009, the U.S. repeatedly and very publicly promised, at all levels and in every international meeting where "U.S. control of the internet" was discussed, that it would never interfere with the operations of the Interrnet's infrastructure, or the operation of the Global Domain Name System.That all changed with the Obama administration and a program run out of Customs Enforcement concerned with intellectual property theft (online IP piracy, and online trafficking in counterfeit products). "Operation In Our Sites" decided to combat IP theft by seizing the domain names of firms suspected of trafficking in counterfeit goods or pirated entertainment content. That is, by actively and purposefully interfering in the operation of the Global Domain Name System and validating every fear about the big bad rogue U.S. manipulating the Internet for its own purposes. And not once, but more than 700 times (so far). All in spite of mounting evidence that those actions have been uniformly ineffective in actually stopping (or even slowing down) IP theft.
The folks behind the program further raised the stakes with the high profile seizure last week of the domain name of Bodog.com, a Canadian sports-wagering site with no direct presence in the U.S. Not only was it not a U.S. firm, and it's website not registered or operated in the U.S, but it was not alleged to have violated IP law, or to be engaged in IP theft actions. The seizure seems to be the result of an arguement that it was engaged in online sports betting - activity that is legal in Canada and other countries where Bodog offers that service, but not in the U.S. (where it does not offer the services prohibited by U,S, law). So it seems like the U.S. authorities felt it was proper to take action because a foreign firm offered services that were legal where offered (outside the U.S.), but not legal in the U.S., where the service was not available. Further, in defending the action, a Customs Enforcement spokesman asserted that the U.S. had the right to seize any .com, .net, or .org domain name it wanted to, merely because the company that runs those servers is located in the U.S.
An internet infrastructure watchdog group protested the cavalier attitude behind such an assertion, saying that the “ramifications of this are no less than chilling and every single organization branded or operating under .com, .net, .org, .biz etc. needs to ask themselves about their vulnerability to the whims of U.S. federal and state lawmakers.”
ICANN, an internet nonprofit charged with oversight of the Global Domain Name System has publicly limited its reaction to statements that they aren't involved, but have also acted in recent years to authorize a large number of additional domain names, which would be run by other organizations outside the U.S., and not subject to such actions. Over the years, ICANN has been battling efforts to further remove the U.S. from any role in the oversight or control of Internet infrastructure. There has been a concerted effort by the UN to shift Internet governance to a UN agency, beginning with a 2005 Working Group report concluding that "no single country should have a preeminent role in international internet governance." A series of international meetings were held to develop proposals - efforts that were stalled in large part because of renewed promises by the U.S. that it would take a "hands-off" approach. I was at some related meetings, and the concerns and threats to shift control are real and substantial. With these actions by the U.S., with the blatant breaking of years of promises of benign intent, any credible opposition to removing U.S. involvement in Internet governance vanishes. Look for a renewed movement to shift governance to a UN agency.
In a Wired.com piece, David Kravets wonders whether these recent seizures will encourage more Internet firms to move their sites and registrations offshore, or even encourage Internet firms to move themselves overseas - in a global Internet environment there is no real need to be in the U.S., and increasing risk to remain. Or will
the U.S. government’s big-footing over dot-com domains in the name of fighting copyright ... add more weight to the arguments of those who want to put the U.N. in charge of the internet’s naming system. While that’s not inevitably a bad thing, it could lead to a world where any .com might be seizable by any country, including Russia, Libya and Iran.Telecomm and online regulation and legal maneuvering tends to be short-sighted and problematic, because it is often done by people who don't consider the implications of their actions, and/or don't understand the technologies and markets they seek to control or influence. Here, it's all in play - an incredibly and extremely short-sighted effort that will not only have virtually no shot at actually achieving its stated goals and purpose, but has a real chance of resulting in significant and long-lasting harm to the U.S. Internet industry - and a very real chance of destabilizing and perhaps even destroying the Internet as an open-access system.
How can we let this happen?
Source - If It Ends in .Com, It's .Seizable, Wired.com
edit track - cleaned up some language in the early sections (7 March)