US hands control over internet to a non-profit organisation called ICANN

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Capping a highly politicized debate, the US government on Saturday let go of its remaining grip on the internet, handing control of the net’s address book to Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), effective October 1, 2016.

ICANN has now become a self-regulating, non-profit international organization managing the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, the system for online “domains” such as .com. It will no longer be under the watch of the US’ National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

While the U.S. and ICANN officials say that the change is part of a longstanding plan to “privatize” those functions, some critics complain about a “giveaway” that could threaten the internet’s integrity.

ICANN will take its input from academics, companies, governments and the public. While the American government didn’t really exercise its influence, it no longer has that option.

“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.”

Christopher Mondini, ICANN’s vice president for global business engagement, said the change will have no impact on day-to-day internet use, and will assure the global community that the system is free from government regulation and interference.

“This is a new kind of governance model,” he added.

 

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The handover follows an unsuccessful last-minute attempt by four states’ Republican attorneys general to block the transition arguing that it would allow authoritarian regimes to have greater control over the internet.

However, their temporary injunction request, which centered around the idea that the U.S. was “giving away government property” and required Congressional approval to give up ICANN was rejected by a federal judge. The attorneys’ resonated their party’s concern that reducing U.S. control would open the internet to greater censorship by countries like China and Russia, who don’t value the freedom of speech.

They were also worried that the shift could threaten U.S. government domains like .gov and .mil (for government and military-related websites, respectively) and could be tampered with.

On the other hand, supporters of the transition are of the opinion that the move is not only harmless, but might prevent a far worse outcome. Since ICANN will still operate out of Los Angeles, they say that censorship-heavy countries don’t have any more power over the internet than they did before.

If anything, a privately-managed domain system reduces the pressure to hand over control to the United Nations, where China and Russia would have some influence. There’s also a fear that a fully independent ICANN may act unpredictably once free of US oversight and would encourage countries to set up their own domain systems and fragment the internet.

While the U.S. no longer has the keys to the internet kingdom, the important thing to remember is that neither does anyone else.

 

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