The Future of Internet Governance

May 20, 2015

Dorothy Jetter

Digital Liberty

On May 13th, the Subcommittee on Electronics and Technology of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing to discuss the future of internet governance.  IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority)’s current contract gives stewardship to the United States via the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).  Come September, the US government may concede control of IANA, over to ICANN (an acronym standing for Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a California-based nonprofit).
Given the current global political climate, this transition could have disastrous results. Under the current governance, the US government has the ability to oversee IANA through the Domain Name System, but the Obama Administration is ready to concede its minimal oversight role.  This would leave IANA vulnerable to political and financial pressures, potentially from governments uninterested in protecting free speech.
The current proposed transition method does not include satisfactory accountability mechanismsto ensure ICANN will maintain its current multi-stakeholder model and could end up under the control of the United Nations or governments that do not have the best human rights records.  At present, the US can ensure, through its DNS oversight that ICANN remains safe-guarded from financial exploitation (to some extent), and is transparent in its DNS assignment process.  Further, the NTIA contract with IANA ensures that ICANN must remain on US soil, and is thereofre subject to the US judicial system and laws.  This is one of the reasons that free speech has been expanded through Internet use.
Peter Roff points out this particular, and alarming truth about transitioning IANA in an article for US News. Under the current structure, when the US ceases stewardship of IANA, there would be nothing stopping a stakeholder from altering, transferring, or even eliminating domain names such as .mil, .gov. and .edu.  Given that the US Department of Defense uses the .mil domain to deal with issue of national security, the importance of maintaining the integrity of these domains, and IANA as a whole, cannot be overstated.
Maintaining the integrity of IANA and, in turn, of ICANN, is vital to preserving the freedom of the internet.  Before IANA is turned over to an outside multi-stake holder model, there must be assurance of transparency and accountability. There is but one opportunity to transition stewardship of IANA from the United States to the global internet community.  It is the responsibility of the US government to ensure that through this process, the internet remains free.

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