A Politico article “In cyberspace, a war over names” quoted Syracuse University School of Information Studies Professor Milton Mueller about government oversight on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers process for creating new top-level domains (TLDs).

Milton accused the U.S. government of “ganging up with other governments,” adding, “The thing that’s concerning is that if ICANN makes some kind of deal, who will be cut out of the process? Will ICANN become a remote, bargaining game between this tiny board and a few powerful governments?”

The Clinton administration helped create ICANN, a California-based non-profit in the early days of the Internet to control the domain name process, keeping governmental control over the Internet at a minimum. Yet, the Obama administration proposed last month to institute a governmental veto process to allow a governmental representative to object to the creation of any domain name for any reason. Under this proposal, unless another government objected to the veto, the domain name would not be created.

“Domain names and numbers are one of the few chokeholds of free speech,” said Susan Crawford, a former special assistant to the Obama administration on science, technology and innovation policy. “By having a government-led institution, it will immediately insert lowest-common-denominator speech demands into the decision-making process.”

One of Mueller’s concerns is that several countries have objected to the creation of domain names that would censor content on the Internet, including the creation of .gay, .sex or .humanrights.

“It is clear from conversations with government officials in a couple of conservative Arab countries that they object to .gay,” Mueller said. “This means that unless other governments are willing to counter this objection, ICANN will suppress an important form of expression for people who happen to be gay. Such expression could be blocked regardless of whether it contains content or words that are illegal in the objecting country; it can be suppressed regardless of whether it is illegal under international law; it can be suppressed regardless of whether it is legal and protected speech in the applicant’s own jurisdiction and markets. The U.S. is proposing that suppression take place because some government official doesn’t like it. Welcome to the 17th century.”

Mueller is Professor at Syracuse University School of Information Studies, where he teaches courses on information and communication policy and telecommunication management. His research focuses on property rights, institutions and global governance in communication and information industries. His earlier book Ruling the Root: Internet Governance and the Taming of Cyberspace (MIT
Press, 2002) was the first book-length analysis of the political and economic forces leading to the creation of ICANN. Currently, he is doing research on the legal and regulatory responsibilities of Internet service providers, Internet Protocol addressing policy, the policy implications of Deep Packet Inspection technology and the security governance practices of network operators.

Mueller was one of the founders of the Internet Governance Project, an alliance of scholars in action around global Internet policy issues. As co-founder of the Noncommercial Users Constituency he has played a leading role in organizing and mobilizing public interest groups in ICANN. Mueller is on the Advisory Council of Public Interest Registry (.org).