geert on Thu, 21 Mar 2002 17:50:50 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> John-Perry Barlow: The Accra Manifesto


The Accra Manifesto
Accra, Ghana
Tuesday, March 12, 2002 (revised Wed. March 13, 2002)

 Since its beginnings, Cyberspace has provided new approaches for the
 benign ordering of human affairs. As we begin to develop institutions
 to govern the digital world, we must avoid returning to industrial
 models that have generally failed in the analog world to assure
 equity, liberty, and human inclusion. Instead, let us build upon the
 promise of what has already proven effective in this social

 The paramount governing values that have so far emerged in this grand
 collective enterprise are openness, inclusion, technical
 practicality, emergent form, decentralization, transparency,
 tolerance, diversity, and a fierce willingness to defend free
 expression and the preservation of identity.  These are appropriate
 values. They are working.

 They should be allowed to go on working, both in the eventual systems
 for allocating domain names and numbers and in all other matters of
 Cyberspace governance. Neither the current operations of ICANN nor
 the current proposal put forward by its president appear to place
 much faith in them.

 Cyberspace has thus far been an environment where architecture is
 politics. ICANN has turned this practical formulation on its head by
 attempting to make politics architecture.

 To assist in designing a governing process that will promote these
 values and thus direct us toward the future and away from the past
 the undersigned propose the following to the ICANN meeting in Accra:

 1. It appears to us that ICANN has so far failed to generate the
 moral authority necessary to govern an environment where authority
 must be based on the general respect of the governed rather than its
 ability to impose solutions by fiat.

 2. It has failed for a variety of reasons. Chief among these are its
 impulse to adapt existing and mechanical models of government to a
 social space that cannot easily be coerced into submission. It
 attempts to impose government instead of proposing governance.

 3. ICANN is overly centralized and, by virtue of its incorporation in
 the United States and its practical dependency on American
 contractors, perpetuates the dangerous belief that the Internet is an
 American environment. We believe that root should not be based in the

 4. ICANN was established in a gray area of institutional reality that
 makes it nearly invulnerable to legal or political rebuke. If ICANN
 were a function of the U.S. Government, at least it could be brought
 into court and held accountable for unconstitutional behavior. The
 current structure provides almost no opportunity for redress in the
 area of domain names and none at all in the area of domain numbering.
 It's power is vast and growing. Its accountability is small and

 5. By abandoning the simple and fair system of "1st come, 1st served"
 domain name allocation that served the Internet well from the
 beginning, ICANN has created a quagmire of unnecessary disputes and
 suppressed expression, and has irrationally conflated trademark law
 with domain assignment.

 6. Efforts to turn Cyberspace into a traditional democracy, however
 laudable in principle, may never work well in a social space where it
 is extremely difficult to define either the electorate or a credible
 system whereby the people might express their will. Nonetheless,
 public representation on the board is so important that we can't
 afford to give up on it. It would be well to remember that democracy
 is more than a mechanical process of providing that every single
 member of a constituency has a say. Rather it is a system of
 governance that seeks the consent of the governed, however that
 assent is conveyed. To assure that ICANN is democratic in this sense,
 there must be a low entry barrier to unofficial involvement its
 decision-making processes, and, possibly, a decentralized, community
 based system for selecting "at large" board members.

 7. The current proposal before ICANN would fix this problem by
 inserting existing nation states into a space where they have no
 natural sovereignty. While this might, at first pass, lend the
 popular accountability of governments to its processes, it's likely
 to result in a system as ineffectual as the ITU or the United
 Nations. Further, given the wave of negative reaction to the Lynn
 proposal, its adoption would likely further reduce ICANN's

 8. ICANN, by its cumbersome deliberative processes, already slows the
 adoption of new technology and might prevent the timely alteration of
 the technical underpinnings of the Internet in the event of an
 impending collapse of the system. The addition of even more ponderous
 governments to the stew of authority would only exacerbate the
 potential for failure.

 9. The current structure of the root servers, as documented in the
 MDR meeting, has the servers distributed between government,
 commercial, academic, and non-profit organizations distributed around
 the world.  Such a structure is highly resistant to capture and leads
 to the robustness and diversity of the Internet.  One possible
 outcome of the Lynn proposal is that the root servers are
 contractually bound to a single organization.  This inherently is
 less stable and more susceptible to capture than the current
 structure which should be protected as a fundamental architectural

 10. The best way to assure inclusion is to derive systems that are
 easy for those governed to understand. ICANN is already too complex
 in its practices to admit informed participation. The Lynn proposal
 would only add to this complexity.

 11. The IETF once provided a good model for governing processes that
 are well-suited to Cyberspace. It was a system for governance by
 ideas, rather than by people, laws, or "stake-holders," in that the
 most elegant solutions were adopted by the consensus of a
 self-defining community, regardless of the standing of those who
 proposed them. That the IETF has become less successful in solving
 problems results less from a flaw in this model than its having been
 high-jacked by corporate interests. ICANN, in its original design and
 current state, ignores the value of these proven approaches.

 12. To address these failures, we propose that ICANN decentralize and
 convey operational authority to the communities that naturally define
 themselves around the top-level domains, restricting its duties to
 the resolution of disputes that cannot be resolved within the
 communities. In other words, we believe that ICANN should become a
 loose confederation of autonomous domains, rather like the federal
 government of the United States during Jefferson's time.

 13. Prior to delegating its operational functions to the domains, we
 believe that ICANN might demonstrate its understanding of these
 principles by defining at least two new public domains. Among these
 we suggest .lib (for libraries) and .pub (for entities, whether
 organizations or individuals, working for the common good). It is our
 belief that the systems of self-governance such communities are
 likely to develop might serve to instruct other domains in the
 ordering of their own affairs.

 14. One of the areas where existing systems of government have
 worked, to varying degrees of effectiveness, has been in conveying
 and preserving such human rights as free expression and protection
 from unchecked corporate self-interest. ICANN might have a continued
 role in directing itself to the assurance of such rights in
 Cyberspace. A reformed ICANN might also propose broad policies and
 technical solutions, but would do so as respected leaders and not as
 a junta.

 15. The previously existing systems for governance in Cyberspace have
 shown the practical efficiency of fixing only that which is broken.
 This is a principle ICANN would do well to emulate.

 Cyberspace is not a place. It is a dialog of cultures. We believe
 that if ICANN were to adopt the above principles, it might, through
 light-handed arbitration of real, rather than projected, problems,
 acquire the moral authority that has so far evaded it. We fear that
 if it fails to consider the concerns that have driven us to make this
 declaration, it will find itself in the unenviable position of trying
 to impose its will on a global community with neither a mandate nor
 force of arms. At best, it will become irrelevant as the citizens of
 Cyberspace develop methods to work around it. At worst, it will be
 directly dangerous to the health of the Internet. The chaos that
 might follow either development will not serve our descendents well.

 While many of the undersigned do not accept every single one of the
 above statements, we are in sufficient agreement with the spirit of
 this statement that we hereby attach our names and hope that the
 governing board of ICANN will make a sincere effort to incorporate
 its beliefs and adopt its recommendations.

 John Perry Barlow < , Co-Founder & Vice Chairman,
 Electronic Frontier Foundation

 John Perry Barlow, Cognitive Dissident
 Co-Founder & Vice Chairman, Electronic Frontier Foundation
 Berkman Fellow, Harvard Law School

 Home(stead) Page:

 Call me anywhere, anytime: 800/654-4322

 Fax me anywhere, anytime:  603/215-1529

 Current Cell Phone: 646/286-8176 (GSM)
 Alternative (Inactive) Cell Phone: 917/863-2037 (AT&T)


 Barlow in Meatspace Now: Accra, Ghana  Labadi Beach Hotel +233 (0)21

 (Provisional) Trajectory from Here: New York City 3/16-22 -  Boulder,
 Colorado (3/23-25) -  Crested Butte, CO (3/25-28) -  Telluride, CO
 (3/28-4/2) -  New York City...


 ...They had preserved a  knowledge that was lost to us by our first
 parents; Africa, amongst the continents, will teach it to you: that
 God and the Devil are one, the majesty co-eternal, not two uncreated
 but one uncreated, and the Natives neither confounded the persons nor
 divided the substance.

  -- Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa

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