'Core Internet institutions' snub U.S. government

ICANN, IETF, WWWC, and regional Internet address registries call for globalization of Internet functions, away from exclusive U.S. government oversight

The United States may just have lost that much more control over the way the Internet is governed.

Ever since its creation, the core functionality of the Internet has more or less been under the direct supervision of the United States, by way of the IANA Functions Contract.

But now, after an ICANN summit meeting in Montevideo, Uruguay, many of the major bodies responsible for Internet governance are calling for "accelerating the globalization of ICANN and IANA functions, towards an environment in which all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on an equal footing."

Milton Mueller, writing for the Internet Governance Project, reported on this meeting with no small amount of sangfroid, describing the released statement as "an explicit rejection of the US Commerce Department's unilateral oversight of ICANN," he said.

"In conversations with some of the participants of the Montevideo meeting," Mueller added, "it became clear that they were thinking of new forms of multistakeholder oversight as a substitute for US oversight, although no detailed blueprint exists." He attributed this movement away from U.S. default oversight to backlash from "the Snowden revelations about NSA spying on the global Internet." He also noted, "You know you've made a big mistake, a life-changing mistake, when even your own children abandon you en masse."

Much controversy has roiled over how to handle the governance of the Internet on a technical level. Under it all, the main criticism of ICANN's oversight has revolved around it being an outgrowth of, and influenced continuously by, the U.S. government.

Back in 2006 when U.S. oversight over ICANN was extended, it provoked a fresh wave of discussion about all the problems inherent in such single-sided oversight. The ICANN was intended over time to assume all such responsibilities and eventually become fully autonomous, but many were irked that this meant the ICANN could simply continue to be pressured to do things the U.S. way.

By the time that extension expired in 2009, even more criticism had mounted, such as ICANN's 2008 decision to allow an unlimited number of new TLDs (presumably for the sake of businesses). Almost 2,000 applications for new TLDs were received -- so many that VeriSign warned the rollout of the new TLDs would be fraught with unforeseen risks.

One countercriticism of letting the ICANN be totally autonomous is it puts ICANN that much more under the influence of nations calling for censorship of the Internet, such as China and Russia. Earlier this year, ICANN leader Fadi Chehad expressed worries that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) was going to eclipse ICANN's functionality and place Internet governance that much more in the hands of those who are less inclined to practice a laissez-faire policy.

Unfortunately, it's gotten that much harder to see the United States as one of the good guys. As Mueller points out, NSA revelations aside, the United States has stalled for too long on letting the ICANN become a truly international organization with "clear rules regarding what ICANN can and cannot do, an agreement that explicitly protects freedom of expression and other individual rights and liberal Internet governance principles." In his eyes, ICANN's now preparing to go its own way -- with or without us.

This story, "'Core Internet institutions' snub U.S. government," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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