In the past couple of weeks, I’ve come across a number of articles and blog posts raising concerns over threats of ICANN and the whole Internet being controlled by Arab and Muslim groups. Here are links to some of those posts:
The posts went too far in sketching a gloomy picture of Arab and Muslim countries gaining control over ICANN and the Internet. The basic argument in all articles was more or less the same as they all made reference to two separate ICANN Board resolutions in conjunction with a statement by the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), and put the three pieces together to draw a very groundless and flimsy conclusion.
The two ICANN Board resolutions referenced were:
- • Resolution on 25 September 2010 to expand the definition of geographical regions in the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook to include UNESCO’s regional classification list which comprises: Africa, Arab States, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and North America, Latin America and the Caribbean;
- • Resolution on 25 September 2010 to revise the criteria for background checks for new gTLD applications, and to remove reference to the term “terrorism”.
The OIC reference was regarding its Secretary General’s recent statement in October 2010 calling upon OIC-CERTs “to identify the best ways and means including technical, administrative and legal tools to combat anti-Islamic contents on the Internet.”
The common theme across all articles and blog posts was that ICANN’s recent resolutions would give Arabs more power at ICANN, and with the increasing interest of organizations like OIC in the cyberspace, other Muslim countries and groups would likely have more influence over Internet infrastructure. All this would lead to more censorship on anti-jihad and anti-Islamic sites, which is deemed by the authors as real threat to freedom of expression on the Internet.
Let me try to explain why such arguments are baseless and entirely nonsense.
ICANN does a global function in coordinating technical and policy aspects of the Internet addressing system. ICANN is built on a multistakeholder, consensus based and bottom-up policy development process, where no single entity or group holds undue influence over the decision making process. Participation in ICANN is open for all, and everyone can provide input and express views through public participatory mechanisms in place.
ICANN receives thousands of comments on the various policy documents posted for public comments. Correspondence to and from ICANN’s senior executives is also posted online. ICANN listens to community and responds to their needs.
The two ICANN Board resolutions referred to in the articles, despite being unconnected, they show that ICANN listen to community.
The resolution to expand the definition of geographical regions in the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook to include UNESCO’s regional classification list which comprises: Africa, Arab States, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and North America, Latin America and the Caribbean came in response to a request by the League of Arab States (a potential applicant for “.arab”) to recognize “arab” as a geographical region. It is worth noting that ICANN is not in the business of deciding what is, and what is not a geographical region. ICANN has relied upon ISO standards and UN references to provide definitions for geographical names in the context of new gTLDs. In defining what constitutes a geographical region, ICANN relied upon a list developed by the UN Statistics Division which delineates the various geographical regions and sub-regions. When the League of Arab States wrote to ICANN clarifying that some UN agencies (UNESCO and others) do list “Arab States” in their list of geographical regions, the Board decided to expand the original definition that was based on the UN Statistics Division list to include UNESCO’s regional classification as well.
This resolution is only within the framework of the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook, and it has no link whatsoever with the discussion about reviewing geographical regions within ICANN. For background information on the latter topic see: http://www.icann.org/en/meetings/montreal/geo-regions-topic.htm/. The most recent report on the same topic is posted at: http://www.icann.org/en/topics/geographic-regions/geo-regions-interim-report-12nov10-en.pdf.
The other ICANN resolution spotted in the articles was the one with regard to the criteria for background checks for new gTLD applications. In the 4th version of the new gTLD Draft Applicant Guidebook, ICANN suggested a list of background checks to be conducted for all applications to confirm eligibility of the applicants. The list included terrorism among other checks. Comments received from two Arab participants at ICANN questioned the criteria upon which ICANN is going to conduct the “terrorism” check, and asked ICANN to take it off the list, or otherwise provide a clear definition for the term “terrorism”. Some of the links I quoted in the beginning of this post state that the decision by ICANN to remove the reference to terrorism as one of the checks on new gTLD applicants will lead to a growth in “jihad terror websites as ICANN has removed its own ability to police them.”!!! If this last phrase means anything at all, it means that its author has no idea what he/she is talking about.
Making a link between ICANN Board resolutions and some arrangement by the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) is also ridiculous, in my view. While I personally oppose any kind of government-control and/or censorship over online content, I don’t take western countries’ slogans on freedom of expression for granted. The recent Wikileaks incident is one example but not the only one.Arab, Freedom of expression, ICANN, Internet