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Witnessing History – Relinquishing US Oversight of Internet Domains

Last week, I had the privilege of being part of a seminal moment in Internet history at the 55th meeting of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in Marrakech, Morocco. As a member of ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC), I participated in the ICANN community effort to pass a milestone resolution creating and submitting a package of proposals to the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

 

While all of us who regularly participate in ICANN chartering organizations had a voice in the transition work, the lion’s share of the credit for this unprecedented achievement in Internet governance has to go to the members of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) and its sub teams, and the Cross Community Working Group On Enhancing ICANN Accountability (CCWG). Those members each spent hundreds of hours of their personal time working on to deliver this framework. I would like to add my personal thanks to all of these multi-stakeholder teams for delivering a proposal the entire community could support.

 

If approved, the move will end the U.S. government’s direct stewardship of Internet domains. It is important to note the U.S. government will continue to have an influential role, but as one of many nations rather than the sole overseer. ICANN has proposed a framework for taking over management of IANA, the set of registries for domain names, IP addresses and protocol parameters essential to the functioning of the global Internet. ICANN has also proposed ways to enhance its accountability as a fully independent organization as part of this transition, the final step in the long-anticipated privatization of the Internet's Domain Name System (DNS), first outlined when ICANN was incorporated in 1998.

 

Increasing Security, Stability and Accountability

This was probably one of the most significant ICANN meetings in the organization’s nearly 20-year history. While much of the language in the resolutions sent to NTIA is complicated, its mechanisms are well thought out and garnered difficult, but necessary, consensus. The framework essentially leads to global, rather than U.S., oversight of the management of some key technical Internet functions. This is a milestone for shared Internet governance—which many refer to as a multi-stakeholder model—among governments, businesses, research institutions, and non-government organizations worldwide.

 

For nearly two decades, IANA has been managed by ICANN under a contract with the United States government, more specifically the aforementioned NTIA. In March 2014, the U.S. agency announced its intention to transition out of its stewardship role. Which brings us to the recent developments in Marrakech.

 

Internet users globally will benefit in the long run from the transition plan’s stability, security and accountability enhancements to Internet governance. It’s a thoughtful compromise that promises to do more to preserve the status quo online of an open and diverse Internet than the current system does as it would make ICANN directly accountable to those who use the Internet globally. Changes in the oversight of the IANA functions give Internet names and numbering systems more protection against meddling by governments that don't fully value the free flow of information online. For example, the proposal would have ICANN's board consider only those recommendations from its Governmental Advisory Committee or GAC that two-thirds of the committee members supported. This requirement should restrain repressive regimes or others threatened by an open Internet, or countries attempting to exercise a de facto “veto” power over widely supported policy initiatives or proposed top level domains.

 

More Work to be Done

While this resolution is certainly a significant next step, the move is anything but done. The U.S. Government will review the plan to make sure it meets NTIA's criteria, and if approved, its implementation is expected to be completed by September of this year.

 

The implementation plan is going to be much harder to accomplish, and it is during this phase that we have to pay far more attention to the details. There is also still more work to complete for the volunteers on Work Stream 2 of the CCWG looking at post-transition accountability issues. In its role, SSAC will be watching closely to identify any issues that arise that may affect the security and stability of the Internet during this transition phase and beyond.

 

For more about the resolution, you can read a press release ICANN issued here (https://www.icann.org/news/announcement-2016-03-10-en).

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