US plans to drop oversight of web domain manager

WASHINGTON — The US government is considering relinquishing control over the body that manages Internet names and addresses, a move that could lead to greater international cooperation on Web management, but will make some American businesses nervous.

The Commerce Department said on Friday that it plans to relinquish its oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann, which maintains a number of technical functions that serve as benchmarks to help computers locate the right servers. and websites.

The action is seen as a response to growing international concern over U.S. control over the fabric of the Internet, especially in light of recent revelations about surveillance by the NSA and other U.S. intelligence agencies.

Other governments have complained that the department’s contract with Icann gives the United States unique influence over the web, which they could use for a variety of purposes. In response to these concerns, the Obama administration is organizing a process to create a new oversight structure for Icann when the current contract expires in September 2015.

Alan Marcus, senior director of the World Economic Forum, said that “the NSA has tarnished American management” of the Web. Mr Marcus said the United States must relinquish control of the web before new leadership can emerge. “There are real issues that are being obscured” by US leaders, he said.

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The action had been debated among technologists and policymakers, but the prospect of a relinquishment of US control worries some companies due to the potential for censorship.

“If you give the registration of a domain name to someone who does not want certain classes of domains to be registered, you are setting up a censorship structure,” said Bill Reinsch, chairman of the National Board of Trade. exterior, which represents companies.

In recent years, US policymakers have pushed back calls from countries like China and Russia for the UN and ITU to play a greater role in overseeing the fabric of the Web. US officials have already argued that such an arrangement would lead to the crackdown on free speech and the balkanization of the internet.

“We thank the US government for its management, its guidance over the years. We thank them today for having trusted the global community to replace this management with the appropriate accountability mechanisms,” said the CEO of the ‘Icann, Fadi Chehadé.

Icann will kick off the process later this month at an event in Singapore and gather feedback throughout the year, with the goal of completing the new governance structure by September 2015, when the existing contract with the Commerce Department will expire. Anyone interested in Internet management is invited to participate.

According to Larry Strickling, administrator of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the new governance model must ensure that Icann is free from government influence. The plan must also meet several other conditions, such as preserving the security and stability of the Internet while keeping it open and free from censorship.

Until 1998, the functions were managed by Jon Postel, computer scientist at the University of Southern California, one of the first pioneers of the World Wide Web. On Postel’s death in 1998, the Commerce Department signed a contract with Icann to take over these functions, making Icann the primary body responsible for setting policy on domains and Internet addresses.

Mr Strickling said the United States still viewed its role in overseeing Icann as temporary.

“The internet was designed to be borderless and this shift towards a more multi-stakeholder governance model creates an opportunity to preserve its security, stability and openness,” said Vint Cerf, vice president of Google and chief evangelist of Internet, in a press release.

Some Silicon Valley executives are backing the move, which they see as inevitable in light of concerns over the NSA disclosures.

“I’m not sure they have a choice,” said Peter Schwartz, senior vice president of global government relations for software maker Inc., who heard Icann’s presentation Thursday in Silicon Valley. “They better get out of this first.

Write to Gautham Nagesh at

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