ICANN Chief Says Russia, China Will Not Hijack Internet Oversight

IT Management

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On March 14 the United States Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced plans to transition oversight of the nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to the global "multi-stakeholder" community.

Headquartered in the Los Angeles suburb of Marina del Rey, ICANN controls what is essentially the address book of the Internet: the massive database of top level domain names such as .com, .gov., .net, and .org.

Additionally, the NTIA currently contracts with ICANN to carry out the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions. The IANA is a responsible for managing the numbering system for Internet Protocol (IP) addresses.

The NTIA's contract with ICANN, which has been in existence since 1998, is set to expire in September 2015 and the Department of Commerce says it won't renew the contract.

“The timing is right to start the transition process,” said Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information Lawrence E. Strickling. “We look forward to ICANN convening stakeholders across the global Internet community to craft an appropriate transition plan.”

Although the announcement was a relatively quiet, low-key one, it didn't take long for conservatives to start questioning it.

Republican lawmakers John Shimkus (Illinois), Todd Rokita (Indiana), and Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee) rushed to introduce the Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters (DOTCOM) Act in the House of Representatives.

The trio said they created the DOTCOM Act "in response the recent Department of Commerce announcement that the U.S. would relinquish its remaining oversight of the Internet’s domain name system to an ill-defined ‘global Internet community.’"

“In the month of March alone we’ve seen Russia block opposition websites, Turkey ban Twitter, China place new restrictions on online video, and a top Malaysian politician pledge to censor the Internet if he’s given the chance,” Shimkus said. “This isn’t a theoretical debate. There are real authoritarian governments in the world today who have no tolerance for the free flow of information and ideas. What possible benefit could come from giving the Vladimir Putins of the world a new venue to push their anti-freedom agendas?”

Even former President Bill Clinton has weighed in with doubts about the multi-stakeholder model: "I understand in theory why we would like to have a multi-stakeholder process. I favor that ... I just know that a lot of these so-called multi-stakeholders are really governments that want to gag people and restrict access to the internet.”

On Wednesday ICANN president and CEO Fadi Chehadé, who has long pushed for globalization of the Internet oversight process, defended the NTIA's plans.

"Everyone is focused on these three, four countries ... but in between we have 150 other countries that value the same values we do."

Chehadé conceded that individuals or governments might indeed attempt to seize control of the Internet, but insisted that the "multi-stakeholder model, it stops them. I agree that people will talk about capturing (control of ICANN), but they haven't. For 15 years ICANN has operated without one government or any government capturing the decision making."

Politico calls the announcement a "smart, strategic move by Commerce to formalize, on its own terms, a process of increased globalization that has been going on for some time. It’s actually the opposite of what the critics claim: The Obama administration is trying to head off rising global pressure to give other countries, including China and Russia, more of a say in how the Internet is governed, not bow to it."

Image via Wikimedia Commons