U.S. Relinquishes Control Of ICANN

Posted by at 10:43 am on October 5, 2016

icannlogo2_w_195The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, better known as ICANN, is no longer under the control of the United States, as of October 1. The organization is now under the control of multiple internet stakeholders from all over the world.

“This transition was envisioned 18 years ago, yet it was the tireless work of the global Internet community, which drafted the final proposal, that made this a reality,” said ICANN Board Chair Stephen D. Crocker.

“This community validated the multistakeholder model of Internet governance. It has shown that a governance model defined by the inclusion of all voices, including business, academics, technical experts, civil society, governments and many others is the best way to assure that the Internet of tomorrow remains as free, open and accessible as the Internet of today,” he added.

What’s ICANN?

The ICANN organization was created in 1998 to maintain a database of names of numbers, to make it easier for people to connect to each other over the internet. To reach someone over the internet, you need to type a name or a number (IP address) in your browser’s address bar. Those addresses have to be unique so there is no confusion or conflict between multiple computers or servers.

ICANN is responsible for coordinating how IP addresses and domain names are supplied to users and companies. ICANN is also in charge of the root name servers, which tie domain names to IP address, allowing us humans to remember computer addresses in word form rather than number form.

International Multistakeholder Control

The move to transfer the control of ICANN from the U.S. government to international stakeholders was criticized by many who feared that it could lead to the internet being run by oppressive countries. The domain name system (DNS) could be used to censor access to websites.

For instance, when Turkey started censoring Twitter a few years ago, it did so by forcing local name servers to block access to the site. This restriction could be bypassed by connecting to other DNS servers (which could be changed in a PC’s IP settings), but giving such countries control over the root DNS could potentially lead to increased censorship everywhere.

According to ICANN, countries can’t easily demand censorship within the structure of the new organization. The new multistakeholder ICANN consists of just not government representatives, but also academics, technical experts, civil society, and individual internet users. There are also mechanisms that give the global internet community direct recourse when they disagree with ICANN’s decisions. However, some still argue that the whistleblower processes at ICANN are insufficient, which could make it harder to uncover abuses.

The contract between the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the ICANN expired on October 1, which means that the ICANN is now already under international multistakeholder control.

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