The EC tries to increase government control of the Internet

By EDRi · September 7, 2011

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Deutsch: [Europäische Kommission will staatliche Kontrolle des Internets ausbauen |]

The European Commission (EC) Information Society and Media
Directorate-General have recently drawn up a series of six policy papers
intended to increase government control over the Internet.

The policies have in view measures that include governmental control
over the domain names that can be registered, the veto power of governments
over new Internet domain names, significant structural changes at the level
of ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), an
obligation of the organisation to follow governments’ advice (except for
cases considered illegal or damaging to the Internet stability) and the
creation of two bodies that would oversee ICANN decision-making and

The measures brought forth by the new policies would provide governments
with de facto control over the Internet’s naming systems and would end up
the independent and autonomous approach of the Internet’s domain name
system. The new suggestion seems a logical consequence of the position of
the head of European Comisson’s Audiovisual, Media and Internet
Directorate – Gerard de Graaf – at an ICANN meeting in Singapore in June

The recent EC papers come to argue for increased government control
and foresee the shift in power toward governments within the next 12 months.
According to the new policies, the governments are notified about the
applications received and are to indicate which TLDs might raise “public
policy concerns.” This actually means that governments can try to block or
censor any content or applicant that they want, by using the “public policy
concerns” argument. The Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) will be able
to raise formal objections later in the process.

GAC, which presently has no legal authority, will soon become a legislator
that can create a list of words that no Internet user in the world can
register, as proposed by the EC papers. GAC members (should be able to)
request the reservation or blocking of domain names at the second level
under new gTLDs. It should do this by constructing a censorship list, which
it calls a “reference list for all new gTLD operators to use and ICANN” say
the EC documents.

Milton Mueller from IGP (Internet Governance Project) explains that the fate
of the new registries and new domain names should be determined by users
and consumers, and not by a central planning authority dominated by
governments and special interest groups. “The new TLD program is also
important because domain names are a form of expression on the Internet. Any
policy that regulates the creation or operation of new domains based on
their meaning or the content underneath them is, de facto, a form of
globalized content regulation. Thus, even people who think domain names are
not that important need to pay attention to what happens in this space,
especially now that domain take-downs are becoming an increasingly common
form of state intervention.”

EC’s second paper is damaging for the freedom of expression by
introducing huge, unnecessary economic barriers to entry. What it proposes
is to subordinate the Internet community’s self-governance to a hierarchical
control by the state, replacing ICANN’s gTLD policy with a new one that will
allow governments through GAC, to take complete control over what new top
level domain names are allowed to exist.

These EC papers were developed not under public consultancy,
but secretly, thus lacking in democratic legitimacy. The plans are to
formally raise or even implement the proposed measures by the end of this
year, in particular at ICANN’s meeting in Senegal in October.

The second EC ICANN Paper: How low can they go? (4.09.2011)

European Commission calls for greater government control over Internet

Analysis: EC policy papers on ICANN (31.08.2011)

ICANN – informal background paper – New gTLD process (1.09.2011)

Payback time: The European Commission papers on ICANN (2.09.2011)