US set to hand over Internet address book – USA TODAY
A contract between the U.S. and a non-profit in charge of all internet domain names expires September 30th, and has lawmakers saying America is “giving away the internet”
SAN FRANCISCO âÂ The United States doesnât own the Internet, but itâs held the oversight contract for the organization that runs its address book for many years. Thatâs set to change Friday.
The U.S. contract with the non-profit organization in charge of all Internet domain names expires then, and the non-profit running the database willÂ become autonomous and be accountable to international stakeholders in the Internet community. These include a governmental advisory committee, a technical committee, industry committee, internet users and telecommunications experts.
The move has been opposed by someÂ officials and lawmakers like Sen.Â Ted CruzÂ who say America is âgiving away the Internet.â
On ThursdayÂ the attorneys general of Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas and Nevada filed a lawsuitÂ asking a Federal district court to block the transition, alleging that it amounts to giving up U.S. government property, among other complaints.
At issue is oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN. Created in 1998, the non-profit is based in Los Angeles. One of its main jobs, done by ICANN’sÂ Internet Assigned Numbers Authority department, is to coordinateÂ the Domain Name System that matches address such as usatoday.com with their actual computer addresses, in this caseÂ 22.214.171.124.
To do that and other work, ICANN Â has a budget of more than $126Â million a year.
Started with a clipboard
It began as a simple list of what names were assigned to what numbers, known as Internet Protocol addresses and was originally kept on a clipboard by Jon Postel, a famed computer scientist at the University of Southern California.
The 18-year-old contract for ICANN has been held by the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration but is not scheduled toÂ be renewed on Sept. 30 when it comes to an end.
At that point ICANN will become an autonomous non-profit.
Very little will change with the handover. The staff and protocols will remain the same. The only thing that changes is that the Department ofÂ Commerce will no longer be approving every change to the domain name root file, the master list of Internet addresses that allows the Internet to function.
ICANN was always meant to become independent.Â However, under President George W. Bush, the Department of Commerce backed away from that, saying in 2005 that it would âmaintain its historic role in authorizing changes or modifications to the authoritative root zone file.â
Efforts to make it truly neutral and global came back into the fore in 2013, afterÂ National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations about the depth of U.S. Internet surveillance. That pushed ICANN to beginÂ working on a new transition proposal.
Some in the United StatesÂ argue that the Internet has always belonged to the United States and that the handover is illegal and dangerous.
Cruz, a Republican from Texas and a former candidate for the GOP presidential nomination,Â has been very vocal in his belief that the move will harm the freedom of the Internet.
âThe likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranâs Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Chinese President Xi Jinping should not dictate what can be read, written, distributed, bought and sold on the Internet,â he wrote in an op-ed forÂ The Washington PostÂ when the plan was first discussed.
A last-ditch effort by Cruz to stop it from taking effect failed this week when it was not included in a stop-gap spending bill to keep the government open.
U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), ranking member of the Senate subcommittee on communications, technology, innovation, called the suits by the four attorneys general lawsuit baseless.
âCongress has repeatedly rejected attempts to delay the transition.Â Technology and foreign policy experts from across the political spectrum agree that any delay of this transition would only empower our enemies and undermine Americaâs commitment to keeping the internet open and free,” he said in a statement.
Who owns the Internet?
AÂ U.S. Government Accountability Office report issued Sept.Â 12 found that the Internet “address book” was not U.S. government property.
Others dispute that such censorship would even be possible. The new entity that is scheduled to take over control on Oct.Â 1 is run through consensus and includes multiple stakeholders from many countries, said Milton Mueller, a professor in the school of public policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a longtime participant in ICANNâs volunteer advisory groups.
âItâs not like Russia and China suddenly have more power than anyone else. All the governments in the room have to agree to give advice to ICANN, but itâs non-binding. ICANN can not take the advice, particularly if all the other stakeholder groups strongly object to it,â said Mueller.
âTheir argument has been that âWe are the bulwark of freedom in the world and if we let go of this, the Internet will go to hell.â How much of them really believe that and how many are just exploiting this to make the Obama administration look bad isnât clear to me,â said Mueller.
While the Department of Commerce had been very hands off in its oversight of the contract, at least it provided a sort of safety valve, said Mark Grabowski, a professor of Internet law at Adelphi University, in Garden City, N.Y.
âYou knew if anything really went wrong youâd have the U.S. government to step in,â he said.
He expects any chances to be very gradual. âWe really wonât know for three to five years whether this was something to worry about or not, whether the proponents can truthfully say, âWe told you so,â or the people who were critical had a point,â Grabowski said.