View Full Version : Internet Freedom Under Siege

10-15-2010, 01:24 AM

Lawfare, the abuse of the law and legal system to achieve strategic political and military goals, has taken many forms in the decade since Major General Charles Dunlap first defined the term as "the use of law as a weapon of war." On May 19, 2009, my colleague Brooke Goldstein and I warned "the next phase of Islamist lawfare may well center directly upon the internet itself." Our concern lay in the expiration of a contract between the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the U.S. Commerce Department, which had been in place since November 25, 1998.

ICANN was established as a non-profit corporation based in California in 1998, and is the entity responsible for assigning domain names on the Internet. ICANN works "in particular to ensure the stable and secure operation of the Internet's unique identifier systems." As part of this mission, ICANN approves Domain Name Registrars, which are organizations that register specific domain names, and assigns IP addresses, the numerical codes by which computers actually connect to each other via the Internet.

Unfortunately, the concerns we raised over about how ICANN's new multilateral system of governance could be hijacked by lawfare aimed at restricting free speech are now being realized. On September 27, journalist Kevin Murphy of DomainIncite.com reported that ICANN's board of directors removed a reference to "terrorism" from the most recent version of its Draft Applicant Guidebook (DAG). While the term "terrorism" was included without any conceivably objectionable modifiers such as "Islamist," the Chairman of the Pan Arab Multilingual Internet Group Khaled Fattal declared that the term "terrorism" itself was objectionable because "it will be seen by millions of Muslims and Arabs as racist, prejudicial and profiling." Fattal requested not only its removal, but an apology from ICANN. Similarly, Abdulaziz H. Al-Zoman of SaudiNIT claimed "the international community is extensibly [sic] divided on who is a terrorist and who is a freedom fighter" as reason to remove the term.