CYBERSPACE—Perhaps it was only a matter of time and the idea that a single comprehensive DNS could not last forever, or maybe this new idea is itself doomed to failure. But however it shakes out in the end, the recent proposal by Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde to create a new peer-to-peer domain name system to compete with ICANN’s system is intriguing for some, and terrifying for others.
The idea of creating alternatives to ICANN may not be new, but there are aspects to Sunde’s plan that have not yet been tried but which have a sound footing in already proven BitTorrent technology. First proposed in a tweet on Nov. 27 that read, “Hello all #isp of the world. We're going to add a new competing root-server since we're tired of #ICANN. Please contact me to help,” the idea was elaborated upon slightly in a subsequent Nov. 30 post.
“A small tweet turned into a lot of interest,” wrote Sunde. “We haven’t organized yet, but trying to. The background for this project is that we want the internet to be uncensored! Having a [centralized] system that controls our information flow is not acceptable.
“By using existing technology for de-centralization together with already having a crew with skilled programmers, communicators and network specialists, an alternative system is not far away. We’re not going to re-invent the wheel, we’re going to build on existing technology as much as possible.
“There will be a press release shortly with more details.
“If you’re interested in talking to us, we’re at the IRC channel #dns-p2p on EfNet.”
According to osnews.com, “The plan comes in two stages: first, they want to create an alternative DNS root server. This is nothing new, as several alternatives to ICANN's already exist. The second stage of the plan, however, is indeed something I think we haven't seen before: a distributed, P2P-like DNS system.”
Sunde has targeted ICANN as one of the notable villains of a free internet, but it was really the introductions of the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) that has instigated his call to action. The bill, which was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 19-0 vote, would grant sweeping powers to the federal government to identify and shut down by way of a court order sites deemed to exist primarily for the illegal exchange of copyrighted content.
But the war against torrents isn’t waiting for COICA. The same day that Sunde sent his tweet, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seized upwards of 70 torrent sites in "ongoing investigations" targeting online piracy, a move that, along with the upholding on the conviction by a Swedish court of the four Pirate Bay principals—including Sunde, who remains free pending another appeal—had to make perilously clear to all supporters of the Pirate Bay ideology that the status quo not sustainable, and action had to be taken.
For Thom Holwerda of osnews.com, the Sunde plan holds serious interest.
"It's a very intriguing idea, but major roadblocks—certainly in the adoption department—remain," he wrote. "Personally, I'd sign up right away for a distributed, de-centralised DNS system beyond any individual's or government's control, simply because while you may have some form of very limited influence over your own government, you don't control foreign governments. I shiver at the idea of someone like Sarah Palin gaining influence over ICANN because she becomes the next president of the US."
On the other end of the spectrum, Fredrik Ljunggren, IT security advisor at Swedish consultant Kirei, told PCWorld that one of Sunde’s main challenges will be to offer the same robustness as the current DNS system The P2P DNS Project could succeed in attracting users in file-sharing circles, he said but will have a hard time attracting others. That may or may not matter to Sunde, and in a sense it does not matter to Ljunggren, either. The project itself augurs what PCWorld characterized as his “greatest fear,” that the DNS will be fragmented as a result.
"That risk becomes bigger as politicians get more involved," he said.
ICANN has not responded to the promised challenge to its authority, but it interesting to note that ICANN Board Chair Peter Dengate Thrush, as recently as next week, dismissed concerns expressed by Heather Dryden, the Chair of the Government Advisory Committee (GAC), that unresolved issues related to controversial top-level domains could lead to the fragmentation and instability of the DNS, especially if countries decide to block entire TLDs from being made accessible to their populace.
“I do not consider this to be a stability issue per se,” he wrote on Nov. 23, four days before Sunde’s announcement, “but rather a policy issue where ICANN is implementing the consensus position developed by the GNSO (Generic Names Supporting Organization).”