The debate over internet governance has flared up again this week as France has expressed anger at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) for its proposed issuing of the domain names “.vin” and “.wine”. The country’s main qualm is that the distribution of these generic top-level domains (gTLDs) will undermine the cultural preservation of wines that are region-specific including champagne, Burgundy, and Bordeaux, and that international labeling requirements will be undermined.
VISUAL CONTEXT: ICANN’S STRUCTURE
As part of its petition to ICANN to halt the issuance of these gTLDs, France brings up the persistent problem of ICANN’s control over internet domains. The Financial Times quotes Axelle Lemaire, French minister for digital affairs, on how opaque ICANN’s processes are, and how transparency is completely lacking — an argument ICANN has seen before. Countries including Spain and the U.K. have backed France’s petition against ICANN’s issuance of these gTLDs.
Lemaire’s letter to ICANN noted:
The lack of adequate redress mechanisms and, above all, the lack of accountability demonstrate the need for significant reform of Icann even before the current debate on the global internet governance system comes to a conclusion.
ICANN has been working on doling out various new domain names that are more country- and language-specific, but many see the group’s decisions as arbitrary, and lacking proper input from international representatives.
This debate reflects the larger, global one about from whom and where internet governance stems, and the effort to decentralize the U.S. as the heart of internet control. After Edward Snowden’s revelations regarding the NSA’s data collection practices, many countries became concerned with how much internet prowess the United States has. Concern for the digital safety of citizens spawned efforts in Brazil to require U.S.-based tech companies to open Brazil-based data centers — a measure that never saw its way into law. Sao Paolo, Brazil hosted the NetMundial conference in April of this year — a gathering of international representatives who discuss the future of internet governance, and its regulation country by country. ICANN — headquartered in the U.S. — was a focal point of discussion at NetMundial, as it usually is at most internet conferences. Transparency of its processes is much sought-after by various countries.
Should ICANN react to the pressure from the aforementioned countries and halt the distribution of the debated domain names, it will set a precedent for the organization’s operation, and perhaps influence the creation and issuance of more gTLDs in the future.