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But ICANN Can’t

Don’t lose sleep over international ‘control’ of the Internet.

Mar 31, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 28 • By ARIEL RABKIN and JEREMY RABKIN
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But it’s still true that changing the status of ICANN was an opportunity to initiate a broader discussion about Internet governance. We might have encouraged some sort of international control scheme weighted to the countries with the largest volume of Internet traffic and with a supermajority requirement in voting, as with the World Bank and the IMF. We might have sought to craft safeguards against future abuse, by getting much of the world to commit to limits on suppression of web content. We might have arranged a consortium of Internet companies to oversee ICANN under a more formal control structure. Instead, the Obama administration decided to make no decision—to simply withdraw from any direct supervisory role over ICANN, without any agreed alternative. It may please some foreigners right now, but it’s leaving more serious problems to an undefined future—as in so many abortive foreign policy ventures by this administration.

There will be a price to pay down the road for shrugging off ICANN now. But that price won’t compare with the price we pay for mishandling Iran’s nuclear program or Russia’s territorial expansion. We ought to keep the ICANN dispute in perspective.

Jeremy Rabkin is professor of law at George Mason University. Ariel Rabkin is a postdoctoral researcher in computer science at Princeton University.

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