Good things come to those who wait -- or who just take months to stumble across a "good thing." Case in point: This interview with Stanford University Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, posted last November on the Foreign Policy Web site.Lessig's credentials aren't just impressive; they leave you wondering when the guy sleeps. Besides teaching at Stanford Law and founding the school's Center for Internet Law and Society, Lessig has a running gig as a Wired magazine columnist, lectures at seminars and conferences around the world, and has authored a vast collection of articles, essays, books, transcripts, and other writings on Internet policy and cyberlaw. And while Lessig may keep an office in the ivory tower, you'll have a hard time catching either him or his ideas hanging around the place.
If you're looking to educate yourself, line up some great research material, or simply wander through content that won't waste your time, then poke around Lessig's personal archive, where most of his magazine articles, essays, lectures, and other works are available in text and/or PDF -- and most, if not all, are available under the Creative Commons licensing model Lessig helped to create.
That's enough hagiography for now; back to the interview. It's a quick read, will probably teach you a thing or two, and focuses on what continues to be an intriguing topic: The running dispute between the European Union and the United States over Internet governance, which flared up late last year after U.S. officials show down, now and forever, the idea of turning ICANN over to an international governing body..
Here are a couple of highlights from the interview. First, Lessig addresses an old and, according to him, overblown source of lost geek-sleep: What might happen if the EU, or some other nation, protests the United States' decision not to share control of ICANN by simply building a second, duplicate set of DNS root servers:
From the beginning, people have talked about building an Internet that wouldn't depend upon the TLD hierarchy. It doesn't mean there would be two or three Internets, but that you would have a domain name system that wouldn't depend upon hierarchical naming. As long as there's coordination across hierarchies about ownership of domain names, you wouldn't necessarily produce any destructive results.Like myself, Lessig supports the U.S. decision to maintain full control of ICANN. That can be an uncomfortable position to take, given the number of neocon goofballs who take pretty much the same stand on Internet governance matters. As Lessig points out in this passage, however, ICANN has established a track record as a fair, impartial, highly effective technology manager -- and we disregard at our own risk just how rare and special that track record can be in the bureaucratic world.
Right now, I hope that ICANN continues to exercise control. It's not because I have any affection for the U.S. government's control over ICANN, but because I think that they've developed an internal norm about making as light a regulatory footprint as they can. I would be worried about transferring authority because I think that some other body coming in might imagine it can use its power over the domain names to try to regulate all sorts of policy objectives. We'd all be worse off if that happened.