Cablegate: Unesco - Internationalized Domain Names


DE RUEHFR #0889/01 1301109
R 091109Z MAY 08





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: UNESCO - Internationalized Domain Names

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: UNESCO held a May 6, 2008 Information Meeting on
Internationalized Domain Names (IDN), entitled "Using Your Script to
Access the Internet." Assistant Director General (ADG) for
Communication and Information (CI) Abdul Waheed Khan (India) hosted,
with the Latvian Ambassador to UNESCO and France, Janis Karklins,
who is on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers
(ICANN) Board of Directors and Chairman of its Governmental Advisory
Committee. Khan provided an overview of UNESCO's policy on Internet
governance, while Karklins and an ICANN staffer previewed the fast
track process for introducing a limited amount of IDNs, which will
be considered for approval at the upcoming ICANN Public Meeting in
Paris this June. Karklins urged member states, particularly those
from developing countries, to attend the Paris meeting (funded by
India) and voice their views on permanently adding IDN strings to
the root zone. Member states in attendance included many EU and
Arab states, Venezuela, China, Thailand, Russia and India. The
audience posed questions that revealed an inability to grasp what
IDNs are. While the UNESCO Secretariat is firmly committed to
facilitating World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)
outcomes, UNESCO member delegations have little expertise on the
Internet. Accordingly, their value-added at the ICANN meeting would
be limited and may even confuse debate. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) ADG Khan, staffed by Miriam Nesbit (U.S.), Director of the
Information Society Division in CI and Mauro Rosi (Italy), Division
of Cultural Expressions, Culture Sector, outlined UNESCO's support
of access, freedom of expression, linguistic diversity, openness and
interoperability on the Internet. Khan stated that UNESCO has
contributed to the issue of multilingualism on the Internet through
its 2007-2009 budget and program, the 2003 Recommendation on
Multilingualism and Cyberspace and the 2007 UN resolution on
Multilingualism. When questioned about censorship on the Internet,
Khan categorically stated that UNESCO is vehemently opposed to
censorship in all media. (COMMENT: Khan also mentioned a few CI
programs that are on life support, such as Initiative Babel, whose
webpage has not been updated since 2004. UNESCO CI does not have
the resources to make much of these programs - its role as an
advocate for a free and interoperable Internet is much more
important. END COMMENT.)

Fast Track for IDNs:

3. (SBU) Ambassador Karklins and the Internet Corporation for
Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) representative explained how
ICANN and its Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) function. They
then defined IDNs, and provided practical reasons why countries
(where languages with non-Latin, or ASCII, alphabets are used) need
them in top-level domain names and country codes (the .com or .uk
part of an Internet address), and then outlined the fast track
process currently under review to deploy a limited number of
non-contentious IDNs in ICANN's root zone.

4. (SBU) The fast-track process would deploy these IDNs within a
short timeframe and would be used where near-term demand and
readiness exists for top-level country codes (For example, .uk or
.fr). If it were finalized at the June 2008 ICANN meeting in Paris,
then ICANN would launch the application process by 2009. The
addition of these IDNs to the root zone will be permanent, Karklins
stated. It would, at this point, only involve top-level domain
names for websites and not emails.

--------------------------------------------- ---
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5. (SBU) Karklins outlined a list of general issues that IDNs
raise, including which territories are eligible for an IDN; how many
scripts per territory, should they be two and three letters long as
in the Latin-script Domain Name System (DNS) (.com and .uk); is a
reference table necessary if it takes 10 years to make; are there
"rights" attached to a given script; who will run the IDNs; should
the IDN be an abbreviation like the DNS (Chinese and Arabic do not
use abbreviations); and is the operation and management of IDNs
different from the Latin/ASCII script DNS? Karklins noted these
questions might seem trivial but reveal important security, cultural
and other issues, and stated that there still needs to be a
discussion so that stakeholders in ICANN's bottom-up process are

6. (SBU) To demonstrate the challenge, Karklins cited the
importance of local efforts to examine the impact of IDNs, noting
the example of the Arabic Script IDN Working Group, which unites
players from Iran to Saudi Arabia. He stated that while all
nationals involved used Arabic script, they identified similar
characters in Arabic and Persian that look identical on a screen,
but actually have different Unicode points. This creates possible
security implications for Arabic IDNs. Now that this has been
discovered, people can work on it before it becomes part of the root
zone. Karklins added that thus far mostly Anglo Saxon countries had
engaged in the debate on IDNs, with very little comment from Asia or
the Arab world. He urged UNESCO member states present to report to
capitals on his briefing, advise their governments to consider
becoming a member of the ICANN GAC and attend the June, 2008 ICANN
meeting in Paris. UNESCO's ADG Khan added that UNESCO, as a WSIS
facilitator, was playing a role in promoting multilingualism by
publicizing this meeting to UNESCO member states and also encouraged
them to sign up for the next Internet Governance Forum in Hyderabad,

6. (SBU) COMMENT: The presentation, which, while engaging and
thoughtful, was very technical for UNESCO delegations more familiar
with cultural and educational issues. Karklin's rallying cry to
engage governments and local stakeholders on the practical
challenges of IDNs before it is too late sailed majestically over
everyone's head. One delegate asked if this meant he could now type
in the UNESCO website address in Arabic. Another asked if ICANN had
a membership fee. Another asked if people would now buy up IDNs in
advance of their operability, and yet another asked if IDNs would
prevent spam. Disconcertingly, it is these same voices that will
try to draft UNESCO resolutions on Internet governance once this

issue becomes sexy. One would hope that Karklins and ICANN are
reaching out to better-informed audiences, for example, at the ITU
in Geneva. We also note ADG Khan's interest in using the UNESCO
platform to promote the Indian-government sponsored ICANN meeting
and the IGF, also to be hosted by India this December. END


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