Governance in Namespaces

82 Pages Posted: 27 Jul 2003


Since the creation of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the regulation of the Domain Name System (DNS) has become a central topic in Internet law and policy discussions. ICANN's critics argue that ICANN uses its technical control over the DNS as undue leverage for policy and legal control over the DNS itself and over activities that depend on the DNS. Such problems are not unique to the DNS. Rather, the DNS discussions are an example of the more abstract governance problems that occur in a set of technologies known as "namespaces."

A namespace is a collection of all names in a particular system. Namespaces are ubiquitous. They can be found both in real space and cyberspace. Namespaces analyzed in this Article include the DNS, IP addresses, ENUM, Microsoft Passport, peer-to-peer systems, TCP port numbers, public key infrastructures as well as digital rights management and instant messaging systems. This Article also shows that many of its findings can also be applied to namespaces outside of cyberspace - such as bibliographic classification schemes, P.O. boxes, Social Security numbers, as well as the names of DNA sequences, diseases, and chemical compounds. Namespaces are an overlooked facet of governance both in real space and cyberspace. This Article develops a general theory of the governance of namespaces. Designing namespaces and exercising control over them is not a mere technical matter. Rather, the technical control over a namespace creates levers for the intrusion of politics, policy, and regulation. In particular, the technical control may lead to speech, access, privacy, copyright, trademark, liability, conflict resolution, competition, innovation, and market structure regulation. The Article provides several dimensions along which namespaces can be analyzed. From a legal and policy perspective, it matters, for example, whether a namespace is centralized or decentralized, whether the namespace is controlled by a public or private entity, and the degree to which the internal structure is adaptive. These and other dimensions influence how namespaces protect social values and how they allocate knowledge, control, and responsibility. This Article will also demonstrate that the "end-to-end argument" was implemented on the Internet by a particular design of a specific namespace.

The taxonomic structure developed in this Article can be useful to legal and policy debates about the implications of various namespaces. It may also be helpful to designers of namespaces who consider the legal and policy consequences of their actions.

Keywords: Cyberlaw, Internet Governance, ICANN, Namespaces, End-to-End

Suggested Citation

Bechtold, Stefan, Governance in Namespaces. Available at SSRN: or

Stefan Bechtold (Contact Author)

ETH Zürich ( email )

IFW E 47.2
Zurich, 8092
+41-44-632-2670 (Phone)


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