Icann: defending our precious bodily fluids

Report and reflections on the November 2001 ICANN meeting in Marina Del Rey, California

It used to be that the machinations by which ICANN developed the agendas for its annual meetings was a bit of a mystery. Those agendas — part by-product of backroom dealing, part concession to public preres — were usually handed down at the last minute by ICANN’s staff, in routine violation of the scheduling requirements set forth in the organization’s by-laws. But the 11 September massacres "changed everything," including ICANN: on 27 September, ICANN’s staff dispensed with the smoke and mirrors when it announced that rather than "follow the usual ICANN format" the November 2001 meeting in Marina Del Rey, California, would "focus exclusively" on the pressing problems of "Security and Stability of the Internet Naming and Address Allocation Systems."

"Stability" is, of course, ICANN’s favorite theme, maybe because it implies that skeptics of the organization are somehow mixed up with the forces of instability. That the term should figure prominently in this "special" meeting came as little surprise. However, the newer theme, "security," was the subject of some speculation. The terminally suspicious (of which this writer is a card-carrying member) viewed it, in Milton Mueller’s cautiously crafted words, as "a conscious attempt to avoid the real ies facing the organization." Given ICANN’s long history of manipulations, such cynicism was certainly justified. But that hardly precluded the possibility that other factors may not have driven ICANN’s decision.

In messages sent to various ICANN-related mailing lists, former CEO and president Mike Roberts fueled speculations that the agenda change might have been a response to prere from above. For example:

When civilization takes a step backward, as it did last week, it usually means a period in which the people with the guns make the decisions. Anyone watching the American President on tv in recent days knows that’s where we’re at. It may be a while before the luxury of debating what constitutes consensus in a terrorist-less society returns.

Eruptions like this were hardly new; in fact, ICANN critics had long, if quietly, treasured Roberts’s talent for tone-deaf bombast — so the question was whether to read anything into them at all. Was he responding to actual prere or, rather, was he putting on an anticipatory CYA?

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