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ACLU Looks at Privacy, Free Expression on the Net

6 July 2000

Aiming to prevent a hodge-podge of private Internet governance bodies from establishing themselves as online "super- governments," the American Civil Liberties Union has teamed with a pair of public interest groups to form the Internet Democracy Project.

Groups like the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) "have to be more respectful about privacy and free expression and ought to limit their roles to technical (matters)," ACLU Associate Director Barry Steinhardt told Newsbytes today.

The ACLU has teamed with the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CSPR) to educate non-governmental organizations around the world about Internet governance, Steinhardt said.

Ultimately the Internet Democracy Project will attempt to focus a global spotlight on the activities of Internet governance groups, preventing them from operating behind closed doors and making decisions by fiat, Steinhardt said.

And while the Internet Democracy Project is intended to deal broadly with all Internet governance bodies, the new group is focusing most of its efforts on ICANN.

ICANN, the company charged by the US Commerce Department with managing the Internet's vital addressing system, has become increasingly visible of late as it wrestles with issues that will shape the face of the Internet for years to come.

This week's launch of the Internet Democracy Project was timed to coincide with next week's ICANN meeting in Yokohama, Japan, Steinhardt said.

While ICANN is attempting to give the Internet public a broader say in its labyrinthine decision-making process, there remain "some real questions about transparency and accountability at ICANN," Steinhardt contends.

As its first order of business, the Internet Democracy Project has scheduled a forum in Yokohama to coincide with the week-long ICANN meeting.

One of the top issues for the ACLU at that meeting will be the addition of new Internet domains to the legacy root server.

ICANN appears committed to adding at least a few new domains to supplement .com, .org and .net, but the ACLU and other civil liberties groups are pushing for a massive expansion in the number of Internet domains.

"The dominance of the .com domain is having a severe impact on the right of noncommercial speakers to be heard on the Internet," Steinhardt said.

ICANN representatives did not return calls on this story.

More information about the Internet Democracy Project is available online at

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