This article originally appeared in
Volume 9 Number 10
Wednesday, March 10, 2004 Page 234
ICANN's Future Challenges Will Include
More International Issues, Chairman Says
ROME -- Over the next months and years, the biggest challenges for the International Corporation for
Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, will include more international issues than domestic U.S. issues,
the organization's chairman of the board told BNA in a March 6 interview.
Vinton G. Cerf, ICANN's chairman and the vice president of technology strategy for U.S. telecommunications
giant MCI, spoke to BNA after the conclusion of ICANN's semi-annual meeting of stakeholders in Rome.
ICANN, a California-based not-for-profit group created by the U.S. Department of Commerce, is struggling to
enter the world stage viewed as an autonomous entity and not as a wing of the U.S. government.
Though Cerf did not discuss ICANN's relationship with the Department of Commerce in detail, he did note that
several of the major issues for the Internet overseer had an international flavor. ICANN in February voted to
establish a regional center in Brussels, its first outside the United States and likely to be the first of many
around the globe.
Language Questions Arise
On a technical level, Cerf said that ICANN was studying issues created by foreign languages, especially those
that do not use Roman characters, such as Russian, Chinese, or Arabic.
"There is the question of rights to domain names, such as whether the owner of the school.com domain name
in English, just to use an example, should automatically have rights to the name that means the same thing in
another language," Cerf said.
"But even before you get to that level, there are philosophical issues," Cerf continued. "While on one level it's a
good idea to expand the Internet to include new groups, there is also the issue of accessibility of the people
you've included. If you have an e-mail address or domain name that uses Chinese characters, for example, I
won't be able write the address from my U.S. computer and you won't be able to write me unless we both learn
an extremely complicated series of keystrokes. So we should think carefully about how we do this. The answer
may be to have a single standard character set, as is the case with parts of postal addresses, or phone
Access Issue Complex
Another key issue Cerf identified also concerned access to information, such as developing a way to balance
access to information by law enforcement with privacy-related concerns.
"This problem is both philosophical and technical," Cerf said. "Philosophical because the correct balance
between security and privacy has to be reached. But the more difficult issue is technological, because it
depends on the authentication of the party given the access. How do we give the security people access without
the possibility that it won't be used by other people? How do we protect the encryption keys?"
Early during the March 2-6 meetings, some participants told BNA that there were fears that news of the recently
filed lawsuit by Internet registry operator VeriSign Inc. against ICANN might sidetrack discussions during the
meetings. But although the topic was mentioned at several junctures, it did not dominate conversation.
Although he said he was prevented by law from discussing specifics of the case, Cerf said that the lack of
attention paid to the subject showed that participants were eager to stay focused.
"All this shows is that people involved on the process do not want to be sidetracked," Cerf said. "There are too
many important issues at hand for us to have the luxury of getting sidetracked."
Regarding the WHOIS database, a listing of all domain registrants' names and contact information, Cerf said
that action was likely in the near term, with the subject expected to be one of the main topics at ICANN's next
meeting, in Kuala Lumpur in July.
By Eric J. Lyman
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