The Internet relies on an underlying centralized hierarchy built into the domain name system (DNS) to control the routing for the vast majority of Internet traffic. At its heart is a single data file, known as the "root." Control of the root provides singular power in cyberspace.
This Article first describes how the United States government found itself in control of the root. It then describes how, in an attempt to meet concerns that the United States could so dominate an Internet chokepoint, the U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC) summoned into being the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a formally private nonprofit California corporation. DoC then signed contracts with ICANN in order to clothe it with most of the U.S. government's power over the DNS, and convinced other parties to recognize ICANN's authority. ICANN then took regulatory actions that the U.S. Department of Commerce was unable or unwilling to make itself, including the imposition on all registrants of Internet addresses of an idiosyncratic set of arbitration rules and procedures that benefit third-party trademark holders.
Professor Froomkin then argues that the use of ICANN to regulate in the stead of an executive agency violates fundamental values and policies designed to ensure democratic control over the use of government power, and sets a precedent that risks being expanded into other regulatory activities. He argues that DoC's use of ICANN to make rules either violates the APA's requirement for notice and comment in rulemaking and judicial review, or it violates the Constitution's nondelegation doctrine. Professor Froomkin reviews possible alternatives to ICANN, and ultimately proposes a decentralized structure in which the namespace of the DNS is spread out over a transnational group of "policy partners" with DoC.
A. Michael Froomkin, Wrong Turn in Cyberspace: Using ICANN to Route Around the APA and the Constitution, 50 Duke L.J. 17 (2000).