Take action to save .org and prosecute those who sold out the internet

Published 2019-11-29 on Drew DeVault's blog

As many of you have no doubt heard, control of the .org registry has been sold to private interests. There have been attempts to call them to reason, like Save .ORG, but let’s be realistic: they knew what they’re doing is wrong, the whole time. If they were a commercial entity, our appeals would fall on deaf ears and that would be the end of it. But, they’re not a commercial entity - so our appeals may fall on deaf ears, but that doesn’t have to be the end of it.

The level of corruption on display by the three organizations involved in this scam: ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), ISOC (The Internet Society), and PIR (Public Interest Registry), is astounding and very illegal. If you are not familiar with the matter, click this to read a summary:

Summary of the corrupt privatization of .org

The governance of names on the internet is kind of complicated. ISOC oversees a lot of activities in internet standards and governance, but their role in this mess is as the parent company of PIR. PIR is responsible for the .org registry, which oversees the governance of .org directly and collects fees for every sale of a .org domain. ICANN is the broader authority which oversees all domain allocation on the internet, and also collects a fee for every domain sold. There's a complex web of documents and procedures which govern these three organizations, and the name system as a whole, and all three of them were involved in this process. Each of these organizations is a non-profit, except for PIR, which in the course of this deal is trying to convert to a B corp.

ICANN can set price limits on the sale of .org domains. In March of 2019, they proposed removing these price caps entirely. During the period for public comment, they received 3,300 comments against, and 6 in favor. On May 13, they removed these price caps anyway.

In November 2019, ISOC announced that they had approved the sale of PIR, the organization responsible for .org, to Ethos Capital, for an unspecified amount. According to the minutes, the decision to approve this sale was unanimously voted on by the board. Additionally, it seems that Goldman Sachs had been involved in the sale to some degree.

Fadi Chehadé became the CEO of ICANN in 2012. In 2016, he leaves his position before it expires to start a consulting company, and he later joins Abry Partners. One of the 3 partners is Erik Brooks. They later acquire Donuts, a private company managing domains. Donuts co-founder Jon Nevett becomes the CEO of PIR in December 2018. On May 7th, Chehadé registers EthosCapital.com, and on May 13th ICANN decided to remove the price caps despite 0.2% support from the public. On May 14th, the following day, Ethos Capital was incorporated, with Brooks as the CEO. In November 2019, ISOC approved the acquisition of PIR by Ethos Capital, a for-profit company.

These are the names of the criminals who sold the internet. If you want to read more, Private Internet Access has a good write-up.

Okay, now let's talk about what you can do about it.

If you are familiar with the .org heist, then like me, you’re probably pissed off. Here’s how you can take action: all of these organizations are 501c3 non-profits. The sale of a non-profit to a for-profit entity like this is illegal without very specific conditions being met. Additionally, this kind of behavior is not the sort the IRS likes to see in a tax-exempt organization. Therefore, we can take the following steps to put a stop to this:

  1. Write to the CA and VA attorney general offices encouraging them to investigate the misbehavior of these three non-profits, which are incorporated in their respective states.
  2. File form 13909 with the IRS, encouraging them to review the organization’s non-profit status.

This kind of behavior is illegal. The sale of a non-profit requires a letter from the Attorneys General in both California (ICANN) and Virginia (ISOC, PIR). Additionally, much of this behavior qualifies as “self-dealing”, or leveraging one’s power within an organization for their own benefit, rather than the benefit of the organization. To report this, I’ve prepared a letter to the CA and VA Attorney’s General offices, which you can read here:

I encourage you to consider writing a letter of your own, but I would not recommend copying and pasting this letter. However, this kind of behavior is also illegal in the eyes of the IRS, and a form is provided for this purpose. Form 13909 is the appropriate means for reporting this behavior. You can download a pre-filled form here, and I do encourage you to submit one this yourself:

This only includes complaints for ICANN and ISOC, as PIR is seeking to lose its non-profit status anyway. You can print out the PDF, fill in your details on both pages, and mail it to the address printed on the form; or you can download the ODG, open it up with LibreOffice Draw, and fill in the remaining details digitally, then email it to the address shown on the page.1

Happy Thanksgiving! Funny how this all happened right when the American public would be distracted…

  1. Crash course in LibreOffice Draw: press F2, then click and drag to make a new textbox. Select text and use Ctrl+[ to reduce the font size to something reasonable. The red button on the toolbar along the top will export the result as a PDF. 

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