The group that oversees the Internet's domain-name system came under heavy fire on Thursday for a decision that critics said kills the concept of public participation and establishes in its stead a paternalistic oligarchy.
At a meeting in Accra, Ghana, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) said that the 500 million people who use the Internet should be given a formal role in helping to oversee the system that guides email and Web browsers around the Internet.
But in a preliminary report, ICANN's board of directors declined to say how it would balance the interests of Internet users with other groups, such as businesses and technical experts. Instead, the board set up a committee to create a specific plan by the time ICANN next meets in Romania in June.
"The Internet will now be run by a body that adheres to principles that otherwise died with the era of Queeen Victoria and King Leopold," said board member Karl Auerbach, a vocal critic of many of ICANN's policies.
"My board seat, and those of the other four elected board members, will simply vaporise this fall, with no replacements, no elections ... no nothing," continued Auerbach in a statement issued in the wake of the decision. "ICANN will be reduced to a body run by those who have today proclaimed themselves to be our self-designated 'betters', who know better than we do what is best for you and me."
Auerbach said the board's action eliminates the idea of an at-large membership, rather than establishing it. "The faux at-large that the board resolution calls for are nothing but external clubs that have no role in ICANN and play no role in the choosing of the board of directors or play any role in the development of Internet policy. The use of the name 'at-large' is purely a fig leaf to cover a policy that is naked of even the slightest hint of democracy."
ICANN said it is not convinced that global elections are the best way to choose board seats, given their high expense and vulnerability to fraud. "The board is not persuaded that global elections are the only or the best means of achieving public representation for the informed participation of Internet users in the ICANN process," the directors said in a formal resolution.
But Auerbach reserved his most fierce criticism language used by ICANN to announce its decision, calling it "Newspeak Orwellian".
In its announcement, ICANN said it is "in the process of considering wholesale restructuring, and the resolution instructs the Board Committee on Restructuring to ensure that their ongoing efforts at crafting a blueprint for ICANN reform include workable mechanisms and procedures that enable meaningful opportunities for participation by the full range of Internet users, and an appropriate role for those interests in ICANN's coordinating and management structures."
But down near the end of the announcement, ICANN said: "While the board, today, made clear that there would be no direct elections to fill At-Large board seats at this time, it left open the possibility of future At-Large elections."