June 11, 1999 5:55 PM PDT

Ralph Nader takes ICANN to task

Consumer rights advocate Ralph Nader has joined the contentious fight over the policies and practices of the nonprofit corporation charged with managing the Internet's addressing system.

Nader, along with James Love, director of the Consumer Project on Technology, today sent a letter to Esther Dyson, interim chair of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), asking a number of questions about the group's authority and methods.

"Could you tell us Net number system at a crossroads the scope of Internet governance issues that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers aspires to address?" Nader and Love ask in the letter. "And will ICANN use its control over root name servers to block access to any IP address or domain name for any reason?

"If so, could you give us an idea of what those reasons might be, and how those decisions will be made, and what legal recourse persons would have regarding ICANN decisions?"

Dyson and ICANN representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

ICANN was established last year in an effort to phase out the United States' governance of the domain name system and has been charged with ending Network Solutions' monopoly over registration of Internet names ending in ".com," ".org," and ".net."

But from the beginning, many in the domain name space have leveled criticism at the organization, for everything from how its board members were chosen to how it will answer the public's concerns about its policies.

For Nader's part, he is largely concerned about what he sees as ICANN's lack of checks and balances.

"Nobody's paying attention to this emerging private governance," he told CNET News.com today. "Those questions [in the letter to Dyson] need to be answered."

He also pointed out that ICANN is "not accountable to the government," a point that has been raised by many in the domain space.

"Is ICANN's interim board making substantive policy decisions, before a membership is in place? If so, can you explain how this start-up procedure is justified given the terms of your agreement with the United States government?" the letter asks.

In addition, the letter raises questions about ICANN's plans for what to do if a trademark dispute arises among seekers of a given domain.

"Also, does ICANN seek the authority to levy fees on the use of domain names?" the letter says. "If so, what are the legally binding limits on the use of funds from those fees by ICANN? Under any circumstances will the ICANN be permitted to use these funds to promote public policy objectives on broader Internet governance issues?"

Nader said he had not yet heard back from Dyson but noted he had only sent the letter a few hours ago. Nader and Love ask for "specific replies" to the questions raised in the letter.


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