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article imageU.S. Government to Release Control of ICANN

By Nicole Weddington     Mar 15, 2014 in Technology
United States officials announced Friday plans that would lead to the relinquishment of control over Internet administration by the federal government.
The announcement has been welcomed by international critics but some business leaders are concerned that the functionality of the Web could wind up becoming diminished.
Those businesses include vista print and others in the technology sector.
The U.S. government has been feeling the pressure for more than a decade to let go of what is left of their authority over their system of domain names and Web addresses that keep the Internet organized. Last year's backlash over NSA surveillance tactics and what was revealed about them only served to increase that pressure.
The change would see the end to a long-standing contract between the California-based nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the Commerce Department. The contract between the two will expire next year unless an extension proves necessary.
In a statement, assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information Lawrence E. Strickling said that is optimistic about ICANN's ability to “[convene] stakeholders across the global Internet community to craft an appropriate transition plan.”
Response to the announcement was almost immediate. Some groups were quick to embrace the change, others showed marked resistance fueled by strong criticism. The move's critics say that the decision is hasty and motivated by politics. They are doubtful that ICANN will continue to function adequately outside of U.S. oversight and without adherence to U.S. law.
These groups believe there should be more surveillance on the internet and are the kind of people that would use a service like Work Examiner.
Business groups have had longstanding concerns about the motivation behind ICANNs decision-making processes, suggesting that their policies have long been dictated by the companies that sell domain names. The fees collected by those companies represent a large part of ICANN's revenue.
The contract with the U.S. government, according to the critics, provided a necessary system of checks and balances that will not exist without U.S. control.
NetChoice Executive Director Steve DelBianco commented that it is, “inconceivable that ICANN can be accountable to the whole world.” He added that putting them in that position was the same as having no accountability.
U.S. officials contend that the decision does not reflect anything related to the NSA spy scandal or the controversy that it has birthed. They contend that migrating ICANN to international control has been part of the plan since its creation in 1998.
Lawrence E. Strickling further stated that right now is the right time to begin the transition. “ICANN as an organization has matured, and international support continues to grow for the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance,” he said.
ICANN already has an international oversight body in place giving governments worldwide their say regarding the group's decisions. In 2009, ICANN made an “Affirmation of Commitments” covering issues that are key to their relationship with the Commerce Department.
ICANN President Fadi Chehade assured that there would be an open and inclusive process to the construction of a new oversight structure. “Nothing will be done in any way to jeopardize the security and stability of the Internet,” he said.
The U.S. has had a longstanding authority over certain elements of the Internet, an outgrowth of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) founded in the 1960s by the Department of Defense. The U.S. relationship with ICANN has been criticized more strongly over the past several years, mostly owing to the number of U.S. based companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft which play such key roles in the functionality of the Internet worldwide. The NSA revelations only exacerbated those criticisms.
Gene Kimmelman, president of pro-open access group Public Knowledge said that this move is, “a step in the right direction to resolve important international disputes about how the Internet is governed.”
The question remains whether this move will ultimately be a step forward, backward, or simply lateral in the progression of the Internet and its functionality. With controversy already brewing over issues like Net Neutrality and covert uses of the technology by the NSA, this announcement is bound to raise countless questions over time.
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