VeriSign is the current registry operator for the web domain .org. It has not demonstrated any special responsiveness to its non-commercial clients; it is, however, arguably the best equipped technical facility to run the vital back-end processes supporting internet connectivity for 2.6 million .org users.
In the cut -and-thrust of ICANN’s bidding process for reassignment of .org to another operator in 2003, any continuing involvement of VeriSign has been framed pejoratively using the “fig-leaf metaphor” – meaning that partnership with a non-profit would provide a slim front for VeriSign to continue business-as-usual.
The fig-leaf allegation should be used with care for a variety of reasons:
- Any for-profit bidder may claim to act in the interests of the .org nonprofit community whether or not it uses declarations of support from that community as fig leaves to disguise its profit-making motivation. ICANN explicitly recognized this possibility in initially requiring that the bid be made by a non-profit organization.
- Fig leaves come in various shapes, sizes, colours and degrees of transparency – and tend to disintegrate with time. To what degree does any non-profit body fronting or backing a for-profit partner constitute a short-term, token or decorative fig-leaf?
- To what extent is any civil society body a fig leaf for some vested interest? The term can apply as much to ideological and political agendas as it does to financial agendas. Indeed which body is not perceived as some other body’s fig- leaf?
- The democratic deficit is a challenge to all efforts to organize collectively. This concern is keenest for those who consider themselves to have been excluded, marginalized or ignored, despite claims to the contrary by bodies professing to represent them.
- The nonprofit community is one of great diversity -- with many bodies making claims that are vital to their particular sense of collective identity but are meaningless or incredible to others. This being the case, how much confidence can any body have in the impartiality of a registry operator that arrogates to itself the authority of condemning one or other as a fig-leaf?
In a global society in which much is based on image and claim – covering reality decorously – UIA’s view is that the fig leaf metaphor can be more positively and playfully framed by extending it to recognize the multitude of fig leaves in society. The challenge for any bidder is then to ensure that all such leaves are attached organically to some kind of tree – if not the mythological “world tree” -- by which they can all be effectively sustained in an electronic environment. Those focused narrowly and obsessively on a particular fig leaf, and what it purportedly hides, may be missing the opportunity to see the tree -- and the ecosystem -- to which it belongs.
It is the health of the fig-tree that is vital to sustain the viability of fig leaves in the long-term and so ensure that fruit is produced. Fig-trees are known for their longevity, generosity and service.
The UIA has been providing a registry function for nonprofit organizations for almost a century. It has surely achieved tree status.
But, for those who like the metaphor, the UIA feels good about its up-front operations and is comfortable that its back-end operations will be covered for a while by a large young fig-leaf of the competence of VeriSign.
*** May we all rejoice in our respective fig leaves ***