Terrorism, Money, the Internet, and ICANN
Sometimes it’s possible to be so closely involved with the details of
a problem that one misses the larger picture, the broad arc of events
that would help to better understand the processes in play.
At first glance, it would seem unlikely to draw connections between
the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and current Internet governance
controversies — including the behavior of ICANN, which the NTIA has
(for the moment) chosen not to recertify for key Internet functions.
And yet the connecting lines are clear enough. Not conspiracies mind
you, but rather a confluence of events that have led to rampant
opportunism and the suppression of fundamental rights.
The direct effects of the 9/11 attacks on our culture are among the
After the attacks, quickly enacted laws led to broad use of secret
“national security letter” demands for personal data, often aimed at
Internet services. Millions of U.S. airline passengers are now
subjected to x-ray body scans that have been banned in Europe as
possible health risks. And our various leaders have touted the
utility of torture and assassinations of U.S. citizens and others
without trial or other due process.
This is but the short list. And it’s apolitical, too. There’s scarce
evidence that there’s any significant light between the operational
stances of either political party in many of these regards in the long
Yes, the Obama administration has apparently stopped the worst torture
abuses championed by the previous president. On the other hand, Obama
administration officials now claim the right to target individuals for
killing (especially by remote drones) without due process of any kind,
based solely on assertions by the executive branch. Sometimes
innocent parties are also killed by these attacks, and viewed as
unfortunate but necessary “collateral damage.”
To be sure, governments of all stripes have conducted assassinations
throughout history, nearly always under the banner of “what’s good for
the country.” The failed attempts to kill Fidel Castro are an open
secret. We can be reasonably sure that there have been various other
targets over the years, some “successfully dispatched” — and some
While so much of all this is publicly framed (when mentioned at all)
in terms of national security, the pervasive distorting effects of
money on the process cannot be overestimated.
Almost exactly half a century ago, President and former General Dwight
D. Eisenhower coined the term “military-industrial complex” to
describe the influence of money over the military and associated
national security decision making.
All these decades later, those influences are stronger than ever, and
have now extended themselves directly into Internet affairs.
For example, the purchase and deployment of airport body scanners has
taken place on a massive scale with virtually no evidence of their
effectiveness nor safety, but clear indications that the enormous
amounts of money involved served to enrich not only manufacturers of
such devices, but some individuals associated with DHS as well.
An ongoing drumbeat for a government power grab over the Internet in
the name of “cybersecurity” is another case in point. We see
government security interests (e.g. agencies whose portfolios are
basically to spy on communications to the greatest extent possible)
and the “Internet security industry,” together seeming to be creating
an unholy alliance aimed at turning the Internet into a combination
totally surveilled environment plus money printing machine for the
giant entertainment behemoths.
The extent to which these forces are willing to go is exemplified by a
classified (but safe to say, rigged) “power system cyberattack
demonstration” reportedly used recently to try scare members of
Congress into supporting aggressive cybersecurity legislation. I say
“rigged” because virtually all such demonstrations are by definition
designed with a single outcome in mind, practical probabilities be
damned. Anyone who has set up demos to try convince anyone about
pretty much anything knows how this works. I’ve been there. You may
have been there as well. And while we can all agree that SCADA
control systems need major security improvements, it’s also true that
the current government cybersecurity push is replete with far more
But the connections don’t stop there. Once we’ve accepted the
post-9/11 concepts that “due process” and protection of innocents are
no longer a priority, it becomes enormously easier to understand much
else going on with the Internet today. When trials and the Fourth
Amendment — including search warrants — are seen by authorities not
as protections, but as hindrances, the race to the bottom seems
The criminalization of copyright violations (which in the past have
generally been considered to be a civil matter) is a dramatic example.
The scope of enforcement efforts in this regard have become
breathtaking. Domain names are seized and shut down by the U.S.
around the world — without trial — by leveraging the obsolete DNS
(Domain Name System) and ICANN complicity — often obliterating
innocent sites in the process. Unfortunate collateral damage.
Major international file-sharing sites are shut down based on
copyright accusations, not trial determinations, cutting off vast
numbers of innocent users from their data without recourse, with
governments attempting to ridiculously invoke those sites’ terms of
service as an excuse. Unfortunate collateral damage.
Fears of child porn are disingenuously exploited to mandate vast
personal activity data retention systems for governmental
retrospective analysis, often without even a formal search warrant
being required. Unfortunate collateral damage.
Vast efforts are engaged to pass website and search engine censorship
and micromanagement legislation such as SOPA/PIPA — suppressed for
now but certain to reemerge in some form, designed to enrich
traditional content owners at the cost of trampling free speech across
the Net. Unfortunate collateral damage.
Merely linking to sites that may contain copyrighted materials without
permission becomes criminalized, resulting in international criminal
extraditions that in the past would have been solely in the civil
court realm. Accused copyright violators treated like mass murders.
Unfortunate collateral damage.
ICANN plows forward with their extortionist scheme to enrich the
anointed “gold rush domainer” domain-industrial complex with a
plethora of new top-level domains (gTLDs) — regardless of the massive
confusion and expenses this causes to the vast majority of the
Internet community — and appears poised to endorse further global
expansion of using the DNS as a “no trial necessary” copyright
enforcement and free speech suppression mechanism. Unfortunate
This is all our fault. It is our responsibility. We have permitted
the purveyors of fear and greed to corrupt our legal system and now
the Internet as well. We are smiling and nodding blankly as they
forge the shackles binding us to their wills.
Responsible measures against terrorism are warranted. Reasonable
enforcement actions to protect legitimate copyright concerns and help
prevent the exploitation of children are appropriate.
But we can no longer permit our entire world to be warped by those
parties who are themselves exploiting fears of terrorism, fears of
“cyberwar,” and outright copyright greed.
In the realm of the Internet at least, there are some obvious actions
we should be taking to stop the ongoing decay and set a course toward
a better future.
Government attempts to monitor and control the Internet in the name of
security must be heavily scrutinized and minimized, particularly
ongoing operational involvement (as opposed to research, development,
and specific incident responses) by DHS or NSA in these areas.
Government recommendations would be welcome — government dictates are
Attempts to use copyright and child exploitation concerns as excuses
for broad Internet control, monitoring, and censorship regimes should
be soundly rejected. Not only will these be ineffective at actually
stopping the targeted behaviors, they will do vast damage to free
speech generally around the world.
The existing DNS system should be replaced over time by secure and
distributed addressing systems not subject to preemptive and
unilateral government attempts to treat them as blunderbuss weapons
and often internationally extralegal copyright enforcement mechanisms.
Criminalization of mere Internet linking should cease. Search engines
must be assured autonomy of their search results.
ICANN’s current gTLD expansion plan should be halted. A new,
purpose-built international organization (not an existing organization
with political baggage like the UN or ITU) should be created to
supplant and replace ICANN functionalities and responsibilities, with
an eye toward what’s best for the entire Internet community and the
broader global community at large.
That’s enough to get us started.
Not only in the wake of 9/11, but particularly since then, we have
allowed our legal and technical systems to be usurped and perverted by
forces allied against free speech and due process, in the name of
power, control, and greed.
And through our acquiescence in these travesties, we are increasingly
all becoming “unfortunate collateral damage” ourselves.
It’s time to say that enough is enough.
The rape of what made us great ends now.