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The Missouri Social Worker Who Founded the Global Internet Name Registry

It was March 2016 and two thousand lawmakers, lobbyists, and technologists were gathered in Marrakech for the 55th policy forum of ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.1 It was a pivotal moment in the short but complex history of Internet governance: on the agenda was the privatization of ICANN, transitioning its control away from direct U.S. government oversight and into the hands of a global multistakeholder community consisting of representation from industry, government, and civil society.2

The debate had been feisty in recent months, with three U.S. senators introducing an amendment to block the transition,3 and a handful of disgruntled insiders fanning the flames of discontent.4 But the reforms were going ahead. Inside the windowless conference room of a luxury Moroccan resort, one of the leading figures in the creation of ICANN in the ’90s approached the microphone with an air of determination and authority.

“My name is Marilyn Cade,” she said with a wry smile.5 It was her signature line, even appearing on ICANN bingo cards. Cade directed AT&T’s advocacy activities on Internet and ecommerce issues for more than two decades, and she always stated her name for the public record whenever she took the floor, whether it was before the U.N. General Assembly, in a Congressional committee hearing, or at an ICANN policy forum.6

The transition of power to a bottom-up multistakeholder community, she explained, was a natural extension of Enlightenment and Jeffersonian democratic principles and “ha[s] helped us to recapture the spirit that brought us together initially in [forming] ICANN. We were a smaller community, certainly. There were about 371 million users on the Internet. And we’re now at 3.4 to 3.5 billion. And a lot more people are interested. That’s the great news. The new ICANN is going to be a very different ICANN.”

I met Marilyn Cade for the first time that week at a cocktail reception. As I introduced myself, she placed a lapel pin with the initials “FOM” on my suit jacket and added, “You’re now an FOM, a Friend of Marilyn. You could be the future of ICANN. This organization needs new blood.” 

I asked why. “I’ll use myself as an example,” she answered. “Ask anyone in this room and they’d say I have played a very heavy role in dealing with the external environment that led to the creation of ICANN. They might say I have represented a prominent company at very powerful and prestigious high-tech associations. Or they’ll say I’ve killed two WIPO treaties. But none of that was me. That was all me empowering others to become engaged.” She smiled, handed me her business card, and added, “I was a social worker for many years. People age out. Look around here, so many people are nearing my age. It’s time to pass the baton.”

Read entire article at Contingent