Radical named to Internet governing body board of directors

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Mon Oct 16 07:29:05 MDT 2000


ICANN-oclast

Get ready for a shake-up: Radical Karl Auerbach just got elected to the
Internet's top governing body.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

By Damien Cave

Oct. 16, 2000 | For the past two years, Karl Auerbach has made a hobby of
criticizing ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
He has called the Net's controlling authority over domain names everything
from inept to "an organ of the trademark lobby." But on Tuesday the
50-year-old "wild-eyed radical," as he often calls himself, became part of
that which he loathes: one of five new members of ICANN's board of directors.

Can the ultimate outsider transform an organization from the inside? Not
even Auerbach is sure. "I'm nervous," he says. "I feel like I just signed
up to replace Sisyphus, so that he can go to Hawaii while I undertake to
roll the boulder up the mountain every day just to have it roll back down
every evening."

Auerbach is willing to push anyway. He's confident that the voters who put
him in -- everyday Net users who registered through a convoluted online
process at ICANN -- made the correct decision. He might be right. The
cheerful, bearded 50-year-old has activism in his blood. ("My grandparents
worked to promote labor unions, and my father worked to redress imbalances
of power in the California TV repair industry," he says.) His own life
reflects an eclectic, uniquely Californian mix of technology, law and
protest.

This strange brew first appeared during Auerbach's teenage years. Growing
up in Van Nuys, Calif., during the 1960s, he developed a love for math,
attended the same high school as Internet pioneer Vinton Cerf and began to
question what were then the early stages of the Vietnam War. In 1966, he
joined an antiwar congressional campaign; in 1970, while studying physics
at UCLA, Auerbach found himself running from the Los Angeles Police
Department during a riot sparked by the news of the Kent State killings.

Soon after that, computer science struck his gray matter's fancy, and after
meeting up with Cerf -- whom he didn't know in high school -- Auerbach
began working on the beginnings of TCP/IP. This led him to software, and
throughout the '80s and '90s, Auerbach spent most of his time founding or
helping to start small infrastructure companies that helped networks work
more efficiently. These firms typically ended up being acquired by larger
corporations: Epilogue Technology Corp., which Auerbach founded in 1986, is
now part of Wind River Networking Products; Precept Software was acquired
by Cisco in 1998, which is where Auerbach now works as a researcher.

Through it all, Auerbach maintained his passion for political protest. He
says he earned a law degree "because I had been subjected to what I thought
was an illegal search by the L.A. sheriff's department and I was curious
whether it was, in fact, illegal." (It was.) And when ICANN formed in 1998,
under dubious circumstances, Auerbach took up the cause, arguing for a more
democratic, less corporate structure. He even formed the Boston Working
Group in September of the same year, drawing 1,000 people to the online
policy think tank to discuss "the management of Internet names and
addresses."

But it's one thing to be a critic and quite another to try to effect
change. We spoke to Auerbach about his plan for reform, how he hopes to
implement it and what he'd like to see ICANN become.

Q: You've condemned ICANN repeatedly, but in your ideal world, what would
it look like? How would you like to see ICANN changed?

A: We're talking about a California remodeling job, where you knock down
the whole house but for one wall and build a new house around it, then tear
down the remaining wall. Essentially that's what ICANN needs. It needs a
fundamental, ground-up restructuring. I'm talking about a restructuring to
the point where the supporting organizations -- such as its law firm --
need to be redefined, if not eliminated; where the board members come
exclusively from the at-large membership votes; where everything that ICANN
has done so far is subject to a very short sunset provision and has to be
reenacted lest it expire. I'm talking about a major overhaul.

Full interview at:
http://www.salon.com/tech/view/2000/10/16/auerbach/index.html


Louis Proyect
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