You took advantage of my trust in you when I was so far away. I saw you holding lots of other guys and now you’ve got the nerve to say, that you still want me. Well, that’s as may be, but you gotta stand trial, because all the while. I can see for miles and miles. I can see for miles and miles. I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles.
So sang Roger Daltrey in the 1967 song that remains the Who’s biggest selling single to date.
Last month, the political blogosphere was all a flutter about the Obama Administration’s decision to relinquish federal government control over the administration of the Internet. This would mean that the Commerce Department would give up its veto control over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). This California-based nonprofit group is contracted by the Commerce Department to maintain a system of names and addresses for the Internet. This was established in 1998 when the United States Government limited its role in the Internet number and name address system which was a vestige of the ARPANET which was formally decommissioned in 1990.
Under the ICANN agreement, the Department of Commerce maintains veto authority over decisions related to the naming and addressing system underlying the Internet. In other words, if ICANN decided that the .gov suffix for government related sites should be changed to .fuc or .dum or something like that, the Commerce Department could override the decision. This veto authority has never been used.
In fact, while nobody knows what happens behind the scenes, publicly at least, the Commerce Department has maintained a fairly hands off attitude over the structure of the Internet addressing system. With the expiration of the agreement between the US Government and ICANN, the issues is not whether or not America is giving up control over the internet, but rather under what legal authority the naming and addressing system will be maintained. Or more succinctly, as Newt Gingrich tweeted following the announcement, “What is the global internet community that Obama wants to turn the internet over to? This risks foreign dictatorships defining the internet.”
The fact is, as of now, there are no details or even plans for how this should happen. According to the Washington Post, “U.S. officials set several conditions and an indeterminate timeline for the transition from federal government authority, saying a new oversight system must be developed and win the trust of crucial stakeholders around the world.”
Many different entities have been suggested to take over this function, from associations of interested companies, to the United Nations to other groupings of state governments, but none of these would be likely to work. Companies all have vested interests, governments are often corrupt and have proven over time that their interests not in line with the open architecture of the Internet, and the United Nations is nothing but a mire of lawyers and diplomats that have proven that they are unable to manage their way out of a paper bag.
Considering how the relationship between the US Government and ICANN has worked over the years, I would like to suggest that a good authority to maintain functional veto control over Internet naming and addressing would be the Queen of England. Look at the history of the British Monarchy.
Under the unwritten Constitution of the United Kingdom, the Monarch serves as the head of state and in actuality if not in practice as the head of government. Legislative power is exercised by the Queen with the advice and consent of Parliament, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. In fact, the Queen has veto authority over all legislative and executive government decisions but has publically at least not exercised this authority during her entire 60 year reign. So the British Monarchy has a good track record of providing oversight and constitutional legal authority without mucking around with the workings of complex entities.
Historically, the British Monarchy has also run corporations. The British East India Company received a Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth in 1600, and while merchants and aristocrats owned the Company’s shares, the monarch maintained indirect control.
Finally, the British Monarchy has an amazing sense of history and is perpetual, meaning that the need to transfer authority over ICANN would never have to happen again. The Monarchy has been around in some form or another since Alfred the Great assumed the title King of the English in 871. Today, the English Monarch is one of few authorities that have issued perpetuities, or bonds that have no fixed date or end – in other words, a stream of cash payments that continues forever.
Taking all of this into account – perpetual existence, a history of heading companies, and a hands-off attitude, the British Monarchy would be a far superior entity to head ICANN than would any combination of companies or governments. It would also mean that the Internet would have a pretty lavish corporate headquarters, and could use the Royal Coat of Arms. Now what on earth could be better than that!