The U.S. government is giving up its role of overseeing the net’s technical operations, leading to a more privatized internet.
Since 1997, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has been in charge of managing the registration of domain names on the internet. ICANN is a non-profit organization operating under agreement from the U.S. government, but up until now, the U.S. has been in charge of overseeing the technical operation of the net. However, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced on Friday that it would be giving up that role, instead handing it over to “the global multi-stakeholder community.” The Department of Commerce stated that this decision marks the final phase of the privatization of the internet.
The decision comes following a series of recent scandals involving massive surveillance programs run by the NSA, but according to ICANN at a recent conference, the move to privatization is not reactionary, and has been in the works for a long time.
“Every president, every board of ICANN since its inception has been working toward this day,” said ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade. U.S. officials released a statement saying the change was intended to “support and enhance the multi-stakeholder model [and] maintain the openness of the Internet.”
There will likely be no noticeable impact from this change for the end user. Previously, the U.S. government was acting as a steward, overseeing “root zone” databases underlying the internet, and contracting out the management of it’s technical function to ICANN. With this change, the government will no longer be in a position to watch over the databases, but ICANN will continue doing it’s work as before.
Scandals involving the U.S. government spying on people may have influenced the move. [Image credit: EFF.org]
Daniel Castro of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation questioned whether the recent spying by the US government and following public outrage may have pressured the government into making the change.
“While the NSA revelations have rightly angered many people around the world, they have nothing to do with Internet governance,” he is quoted as saying. “The US Department of Commerce has not once abused its oversight of ICANN to aid the intelligence community.” He continues by cautioning that this change will make ICANN accountable to nobody but those in charge of the organization.
That isn’t entirely true though. The underlying “plumbing” of the internet is affected, but ICANN still has obligations to the U.S. government in accordance with their Affirmation of Commitments. The idea, according to lawyer Greg Shatan, is to begin the process of privatization, but also to make sure it happens on the U.S.’ terms.