One of the greatest strengths of the Internet, its ability to operate without right or regard for international borders, is also one of its most troubling. This truly global nature opens up unique opportunities that no other channel can reach but can also used to bypass strong legal frameworks.
Intellectual property is one of those affected areas, and it is for this reason that rights holders and authorities are trying to add a layer of accountability to commercial operations online.
Standing against these efforts is the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Dedicated to blocking any initiatives that it fears will alter the early days of an Internet without limits – and often without respect for laws – this is an organization with its fingers in a lot of pies. And with its friends in high (tech) places, the EFF also has the funds and associated lobbying power that it denounces in other activist groups.
That said, it comes as no surprise to see the EFF rallying its troops for a debate around the responsibilities of ICANN – the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – which is the US-based entity charged with keeping the Internet “secure, stable and interoperable.”
That would be fine if the EFF had any intention of making its case in a calm and measured manner. After all, it is ICANN’s stated goal to hear from multiple stakeholders and come to a balanced conclusion about what the wider online community wants to see from the organization. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in the past, tech sector-backed lobbying groups like EFF tend to take an extreme tack to their activism, rooting arguments in Orwellian language and playing on fear as a primary mode of influence.
That’s a requirement in this case, because there’s no reason to believe that legitimate online entities will be subject to some unprompted mass outing and stripped of their digital liberty by rights holders, as the tech lobbyists are beginning to paint this particular picture. ICANN president Fadi Chehadé said as much last week in Washington, confirming that the organization will strictly avoid becoming any kind of “content police.”
The issue here is about identifying the bad actors online through ICANN, not molding the organization into judge, jury and executioner. That said, there is still a fundamental role for it to play in securing creative rights online, as its stated objective alludes to.
As a fundamental organizer of the Internet, ICANN cannot avoid its responsibility to aid authorities when a crime is committed. Where anonymity helps criminals, whether content thieves, data hackers, our worse, it should be lifted to help investigators shut down illegal operations.
As a side note, it’s worth remembering that this proposal is not yet final, but it being discussed by a working group at ICANN. Despite being at such an early stage, EFF lawyers are already calling this idea “troubling,” citing a desire to prevent spam and other minor irritations, at least in comparison to the theft of creative works that anonymity can sometimes cloak.
“Respect our privacy” is the call on early EFF materials. This should really read “Respect Our Piracy,” as the organization once again lines up to fight the removal of a key provision for hiding those who own the domains facilitating content theft.