US Government Letting Go of ICANN

Sara Peters, Editor in Chief | 3/21/2014 | 15 comments

Sara Peters
For 16 years, ICANN has essentially run the Internet's entire DNS root server infrastructure, but it did so as a contractor for the US Department of Commerce. Now the department has said that, when the contract expires next year, it will officially surrender responsibility and ownership of the job to ICANN.

This is less of an operational change and more of a symbolic gesture -- but it's an important gesture.

The fact that the US government has some oversight -- or de facto ownership -- of the Internet has been a source of great international tension for a long time. It isn't just that ICANN is an American government contractor (though that's the most significant point of contention). Of the 13 root server named authorities on Earth, 10 are managed by entities that are American or have strong American ties. One is managed by ICANN, three by American government agencies, two by American universities, two by Verisign (an American company), one by a nonprofit organization in Delaware, and one by Cogent Communications, a multi-national company headquartered in New York. So it is no surprise that the United States has been under pressure to relinquish some of the reins to a truly international body.

It's hard to say what immediate impacts, if any, this change will have. It's possible that more international oversight will sway ICANN's decisions about creating top-level domains -- more industry-specific TLDs like .xxx or more national ones like .us, for example. It's possible that the change will affect ICANN's official stance on issues like Internet censorship and the Great Firewall of China.

Or not. But it doesn't really matter right now. The important thing is that the US government is behaving as if the Internet is truly an international, borderless, ownerless global resource, not a very large outpost of the US government.

This certainly isn't enough to satisfy other countries' rage about snooping by US intelligence agencies, nor will it solve America's other (many) foreign relations woes, but it certainly can't hurt.

What do you think? Does it matter who owns the Internet, officially or unofficially? Is the Commerce Department's decision a game changer or just a formality? Let us know in the comments below.

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Cyrus   US Government Letting Go of ICANN   3/31/2014 2:53:44 PM
the irony of conservative opposition
Anyone else notice how conservatives are going nuts at this news? Basically, it's being pedaled as the government doing one more thing to lessen the supremecy of the United States.

The ironic part, at least to me, is that these same folks are for iron-clad policing of the Internet for all types of content and purposes -- yet they think it's vital to our future to keep complete control of it.

It's contrasts like this that make it easy to see why progress is so hard.
tinym   US Government Letting Go of ICANN   3/30/2014 8:39:11 PM
Re: applied, or implied, security measures
NSA has been snooping like crazy but I think you're right it could be worse. Even with the snooping, I think there are other countries that would be worse at managing the domain system.
kstaron   US Government Letting Go of ICANN   3/27/2014 5:16:37 PM
Not Sure Here
Hmm. Not sure how I feel about this. On one hand I think I like the gesture of the US to acknowledge the internet as a global, unonwable construct. But then it's in the hands of ICANN, without the oversight of a group of people that is supposed to be thinking about what the people want.
singlemud   US Government Letting Go of ICANN   3/26/2014 4:30:36 PM
Re: applied, or implied, security measures
same here, although it is monitored by NSA now, it could be worse if it is owned by other companies.
DBK   US Government Letting Go of ICANN   3/25/2014 1:18:53 PM
Al Gore invented the internet
@ Qasim - Yes I believe the US is the big fish.  I gues that is becasue Al Gore invented the internet, just ask him he will tell you.
Qasim Bajwa   US Government Letting Go of ICANN   3/25/2014 2:39:42 AM
Re: applied, or implied, security measures

@Henrisha. You are right in your deduction about change in operations. As zerox203 mentioned, hardly will it affect the likes of us, it's the Corporations and large business entities which need to sit down, think and do the worrying.

Qasim Bajwa   US Government Letting Go of ICANN   3/25/2014 1:55:25 AM
Re: applied, or implied, security measures
@DBK. Absolutely true. For an organization the risks are even greater. We see it differently – an average user. We willingly share all our personal information but we are not spared in the process either.

Isn't the change in management only partial though? US still being the big fish.
zerox203   US Government Letting Go of ICANN   3/24/2014 10:22:16 AM
Re: US Government Letting Go of ICANN
Well, I suppose this is a bit of good news to start the week off with. As others have said, I doubt that this is very likely to affect our day-to-day internet usage much if it all. I didn't know the US government had so much control over international TLDs (that's also an abbreviation I didn't know before today). I do share some level of concern over that being just too much, but mostly it's just an interesting factoid that I'll share if the opportunity comes up. It certainly makes me happy to see the internet become more open in any respect, so I'll still count this as good news.

That sort of sums up my sentiment on most of this NSA scandal as well - while I can't deny that I have some misgivings about it, 50% of me knows it doesn't really affect me, and the other 50% thinks there's nothing I can really do about it anyway. While that attitude may be part of the problem, realistically I can't see myself any worse for wear for it. As for corporations? They probably have a little more to worry about - and, if they're big enough, they probably even have a little sway in decided how all this goes down. That's not really a position that I envy, to be honest.
Henrisha   US Government Letting Go of ICANN   3/24/2014 5:24:18 AM
Re: applied, or implied, security measures
I think people still complain because there are still some things that are in place that still make them uncomfortable. However, going through will also put us at the mercy of a still-faceless entity that might even be worse than what we have currently. This is a tough position to be in.
Henrisha   US Government Letting Go of ICANN   3/24/2014 5:23:04 AM
Re: applied, or implied, security measures
A change of hands will almost always guarantee changes when it comes to operations and handling private data. You have a point as well when you say that the bigger the company, the bigger the impact felt.
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