Reaction Paper 2: Journal Article Summary

by Zach Tomaszewski

for LIS 670, Spring 2001, taught by donna Bair-Mundy

This article[1] begins by giving a quite detailed history of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. It explains how domain names were handled in the early days of the Internet, largely by one man--Dr. Jon Postel at the University of Southern California's Information Science Institute. It explains how his authority over domain names followed him into the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, while Network Solutions, Inc. came under contract from the National Science Foundation to actually register domain names. When Network Solutions began charging, Internet users realized the monopoly they held, especially when their policy tended to siding with trademark holders over domain name owners. Though a rather informal group of Internet and intellectual property organizations proposed a reform, it met little support. The US government, through various organizations, put forth a second reform, and, after some haggling and editing, ICANN was created from IANA. This also led to the end of Network Solutions's monopoly and the rise of domain name registrar businesses. However, Jon Postel died in the mean time, leaving ICANN with little support.

The main focus of this article, however, is the source of ICANN's legitimacy. Though it is technically a California corporation, it has a great impact on the Internet public through its deciding which top level domains should be created, which owner's have valid claim to their domain names, and how disputes should be settled. The author of the article compares them to federal agencies: though supported by the government, they are responsible for wide reaching public policy decisions and are not directly accountable to the public. ICANN has structured itself like an administrative body bound by "the tools of bureaucratic rationality," it has an elected board, and it attempts to reflect the consensus of the Internet community. However, as the author points out, there is no judicial review to restrict its authority, the elected body does not accurately represent the Internet community, and little consensus with such a heterogenous body of users can be achieved through ICANN's current methods. His conclusion is that simply employing the structure of a federal agency does not and will not grant ICANN legitimacy. The only way it can hope to achieve wide support is to severely restrict its policy-making and focus only on processing domain names.

I found this to be a very enlightening article. Like much of the Internet, the domain name technology has quickly outgrown the existing social structure that guided it. Yet technology still requires policy decisions, and those that control the technology may not necessarily be the best ones to make those decisions. Especially with the Internet, any group that has such centralized control over such an essential resource has be to closely watched and accountable for its decisions. I look forward to learning more about the domain name system.

1. Weinberg, Jonathan. "ICANN and the problem of legitimacy." Duke Law Journal. 50 (Oct 2000): p187. Online version: < purl=rc1_EAI_0_A68148808&dyn=15!xrn_1_0_A68148808?sw_aep=hawaii_hamilton>