[At-Large] Ukraine, .RU, and internet governance

Antony Van Couvering avc at avc.vc
Mon Mar 14 21:12:30 UTC 2022

On Mar 14, 2022, at 06:48, Alan Levin <alan at futureperfect.co.za> wrote:
> I suggest that Antony and Evan and all the others that want to block Russia.... go and fight,

In the fight against apartheid, did you suggest that all those against the racist state should fight or shut up?  It’s an unhelpful comment.  

I do not doubt the sincerity or good intentions of those with whom I disagree; I should have hoped that a discussion here would not devolve into personal attacks. 

I am not sure that blocking .RU is the answer, but I am certainly not satisfied with the reasons given not to do it, because they assume a world order that is in tatters and is unlikely to be reconstituted as before. 

Roberto suggests that we need to look at what the internet looks like after this is all over.  That is exactly right and from that perspective I’d like to offer a few thoughts.

- When we think about what we want the internet to look like when this is all over, we should realize that it’s not going to be over for a LONG time.  It’s not as if we can convene a conference in the near future and calmly discuss the unfortunate incident in Ukraine as if it were a accident-prone road needing a few more lights and signs.  This war is going to get much more horrific; there is a non-zero chance that Putin will use battlefield nuclear weapons; and the Ukrainian people will continue a costly, bloody guerrilla war until they force the Russians to withdraw. So our new world order is going to be forged in fire, not at a collegial colloquium at a pleasant vacation resort. Every day we will be asked to confront hard choices. The real world is about to burst into our cosy conference room and it’s going to get messy. 

- Therefore, it will soon be impossible to be “apolitical” or “neutral” in the way it has been heretofore understood. Putin has made it so.   Supranational bodies will find it harder to ignore political malfeasance and state-sponsored murder. Harder to justify conferences at exclusive resorts in repressive countries; harder to have have friendly relations with representatives of these countries; harder to allow them to block reforms. 

- Internet institutions will need to recognize that the right to a free internet is one of several human rights, not a stand-alone right that be casually uncoupled from others. People will need to choose sides because it is no longer tenable to pretend that bad actions are not important so long as we all parrot the same idealistic rhetoric. Today, mentioning human rights to a representative of a repressive state at ICANN is the equivalent of farting loudly at the dinner table, but Putin has changed all that. 

- The greatest threat to an open, interoperable internet are repressive regimes — not the ITU, not new gTLDs, not the trademark lobby, not spam, not any of the familiar hobby horses. Putin and his ilk cannot be ignored if an open internet is the goal. Internet policy-making bodies can no longer ignore these realities if they hope to be taken seriously.  

I certainly don’t know the answers, but I believe that these are some of the things we will need to consider. “Business as usual” is  now off the table for ICANN and IANA no matter how much they try to delay or deny these new realities. 

Thank you in advance for a serious discussion, because this is a serious topic. The helpful way to think about a crisis is to recognize that it’s one of the few opportunities we have a make real changes. 

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