WSJ: What will be the impact of IDNs and gTLDs on authoritarian governments

The future of internet governance, ands the influence of emerging countries such as China, is the focus of this opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. The article says there are now “more Internet users in China than in any other country, and the fastest growing group of new users online is from non-English- speaking developing countries. [But] this has led to a well-meaning plan to reorient the Web toward these users. But it could result in authoritarian governments insisting on more influence.”

One of the key players in this the article says is ICANN with its plan to introduce internationalised domain names (IDNs) and new generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs).

“This will make the Web more accessible to non-English-speakers but also will lead to tricky issues, such as whether dissidents in China or Iran will be permitted to have their own dot-addresses. How would Beijing respond to a Chinese-language domain that translates into .democracy or .limitedgovernment, perhaps hosted by computers in Taipei or Vancouver?”

And while there is limited censorship in China, where the author has experience as editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review, “the combination of more domains in more languages could put unprecedented pressures on a system under which Web addresses are interoperable only because all governments agree that Icann controls the directory.”

The article also notes, “Countries such as China, Russia and Iran have long argued that it’s wrong for Icann to report to the U.S. government. Any alternative to the light control exerted by the U.S. government could put the Web on a slippery course toward more control. This is one reason efforts by these countries to politicize Icann have failed in the past.”

To read this opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal in full, see: