Icann and the Concept of Democratic Deficit
36 Pages Posted: 2 Jun 2003
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is an institution besieged. It has endeavored to be democratic but its attempts to do so have been disastrous. The typical explanation for this is that the problem is with ICANN: it fails to meet its democratic obligations. My view is that the problem is with our understanding of "democracy." Democracy is an empty concept that fails to describe few, if any, of our genuine political commitments. In the real world, the failings inherent in "democracy" have been papered over by some unusual characteristics of the physical political process. However, in online trans-national institutions like ICANN, democracy is exposed as a poor substitute for a number of other conceptions of our political commitments.
This Article seeks to articulate these political commitments and to explain why democracy and ICANN are such a poor mix. It begins by charting the rise of ICANN and its attempts to be democratic. It then explains why democracy is an empty shell of a concept. It then explores some features of democracy and ICANN, explaining why the online world exposes limitations in implications of democracy such as the nature of the demos, the idea of constituencies, direct democracy, voting, and the like. It concludes that ICANN's example demonstrates that democracy is in fact anything but a coherent general theory of political action. We need to consider, then, whether we should continue to berate ICANN for its undemocratic actions.
Keywords: Cyberlaw, Internet Governance, Democracy
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