[A2k] Washington Post: U.S. to relinquish remaining control over the Internet

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Sat Mar 15 06:38:27 PDT 2014

U.S. to relinquish remaining control over the InternetBy Craig
, Published: March 14

U.S. officials announced plans Friday to relinquish federal government
control over the administration of the Internet, a move that pleased
international critics but alarmed some business leaders and others who rely
on the smooth functioning of the Web.

Pressure to let go of the final vestiges of U.S. authority over the system
of Web addresses and domain names that organize the Internet has been
building for more than a decade and was supercharged by the backlash last
year to revelations about National Security Agency surveillance.

The change would end the long-running contract between the Commerce
Department and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers
(ICANN), a California-based nonprofit group. That contract is set to expire
next year but could be extended if the transition plan is not complete.

"We look forward to ICANN convening stakeholders across the global Internet
community to craft an appropriate transition plan," Lawrence E. Strickling,
assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information, said in
a statement.

The announcement received a passionate response, with some groups quickly
embracing the change and others blasting it.

In a statement, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV
(D-W.Va.) called the move "consistent with other efforts the U.S. and our
allies are making to promote a free and open Internet, and to preserve and
advance the current multi-stakeholder model of global Internet governance."

But former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) tweeted: "What is the global
internet community that Obama wants to turn the internet over to? This
risks foreign dictatorships defining the internet."

The practical consequences of the decision were harder to immediately
discern, especially with the details of the transition not yet clear.
Politically, the move could alleviate rising global concerns that the
United States essentially controls the Web and takes advantage of its
oversight position to help spy on the rest of the world.

U.S. officials set several conditions and an indeterminate timeline for the
transition from federal government authority, saying a new oversight system
must be developed and win the trust of crucial stakeholders around the
world. An international meeting to discuss the future of Internet is
scheduled to start on March 23 in Singapore.

The move's critics called the decision hasty and politically tinged, and
voiced significant doubts about the fitness of ICANN to operate without
U.S. oversight and beyond the bounds of U.S. law.

"This is a purely political bone that the U.S. is throwing," said Garth
a security fellow at the Digital Citizens Alliance, a Washington-based
advocacy group that combats online crime. "ICANN has made a lot of
mistakes, and ICANN has not really been a good steward."

Business groups and some others have long complained that ICANN's
decision-making was dominated by the interests of the industry that sells
domain names<http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/donuts-incs-major-play-for-new-web-domain-names-raises-eyebrows/2012/09/24/c8745362-f782-11e1-8398-0327ab83ab91_story.html>
whose fees provide the vast majority of ICANN's revenue. The U.S.
government contract was a modest check against such abuses, critics said.

"It's inconceivable that ICANN can be accountable to the whole world.
That's the equivalent of being accountable to no one," said Steve
DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice, a trade group representing
major Internet commerce businesses.

U.S. officials said their decision had nothing to do with the NSA spying
revelations and the worldwide controversy they sparked, saying there had
been plans since ICANN's creation in 1998 to eventually migrate it to
international control.

"The timing is now right to start this transition both because ICANN as an
organization has matured, and international support continues to grow for
the multistakeholder model of Internet governance," Strickling said in a

Although ICANN is based in Southern California, governments worldwide have
a say in the group's decisions through an oversight body. ICANN in 2009
made an "Affirmation of Commitments" to the Commerce Department that covers
several key issues.

Fadi Chehade, president of ICANN, disputed many of the complaints about the
transition plan and promised an open, inclusive process to find a new
international oversight structure for the group.

"Nothing will be done in any way to jeopardize the security and stability
of the Internet," he said.

The United States has long maintained authority over elements of the
Internet, which grew from a Defense Department program that started in the
1960s. The relationship between the United States and ICANN has drawn wider
international criticism in recent years, in part because big American
companies such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft play such a central role
in the Internet's worldwide functioning. The NSA revelations exacerbated
those concerns.

"This is a step in the right direction to resolve important international
disputes about how the Internet is governed," said Gene Kimmelman,
president of Public Knowledge, a group that promotes open access to the

Verizon, one of the world's biggest Internet providers, issued a statement
saying, "A successful transition in the stewardship of these important
functions to the global multi-stakeholder community would be a timely and
positive step in the evolution of Internet governance."

ICANN's most important function is to oversee the assigning of Internet
domains -- such as dot-com, dot-edu and dot-gov -- and ensure that the
various companies and universities involved in directing digital traffic do
so safely.

Concern about ICANN's stewardship has spiked in recent years amid a massive
and controversial
is adding hundreds of new domains, such as dot-book, dot-gay and dot-sucks,
to the Internet's infrastructure. More than 1,000 new domains are slated to
be made available, pumping far more fee revenue into ICANN.

Major corporations have complained, however, that con artists already swarm
the Internet with phony Web sites designed to look like the authentic
offerings of respected brands.

"To set ICANN so-called free is a very major step that should done with
careful oversight," said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the
Association of National Advertisers. "We would be very concerned about that

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