US Government On Internet Control: ICANN Can Go, IANA Is Ours 28/07/2006 by Monika Ermert for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service and depends on subscriptions. To access all of our content, please subscribe here. You may also offer additional support with your subscription, or donate. By Monika Ermert for Intellectual Property Watch The United States government does not want to retain “all [its] historic roles” in the technical oversight of the Internet domain name system (DNS), a senior Bush administration official said this week. But while it might let go of the coordination role for names such as those ending in .com and .net, it still has no plans to give up control over changes to the underlying structure of the Internet, he said. John Kneuer, acting assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information, made the comments at a public hearing on the future of DNS oversight and current oversight body, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), held on 26 July in Washington. Kneuer heads the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which organised the hearing. Kneuer said the hearing itself showed the commitment to the transition of DNS management to the private sector, something envisioned since ICANN’s inception in 1998. The memorandum of understanding that binds ICANN to the US Department of Commerce is scheduled to end on 30 September. It has been renewed repeatedly in the past, always with a new set of goals to move ICANN toward independence. Despite Kneuer’s remarks, most seem to expect another extension in September. What the US government decided to retain was control over changes in the central root zone file of the Internet, as it is related to stability and security. This function of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) is currently performed by the ICANN. “We have announced to retain this function, which is distinct, I think,” said Kneuer. Others have sought to analyse this comment. For instance, Bill Graham, director of international telecommunications policy at Industry Canada, the Canadian ministry for economy, said the United States could say it would retain authority, but at the same time could also say that it would restrict itself to “that cases where this was necessary for stability.” Graham reacted to a recent proposal by Becky Burr, a US lawyer and former NTIA administrator, by saying that participation of other governments in the last resort oversight function of IANA was possible, but should be prepared to adapt to short deadlines. Proposal for Ending US-Centric Internet Stirs Debate Burr, in a much-debated written statement, had asked for a 16-member international government task force to monitor changes to the authoritative root as a part of a “practical, concrete pathway for eliminating one of the most important sources of contention in the ICANN debate – the United States’ retained, exclusive, and unilateral authority over the Internet’s authoritative root.” At the hearing, Emily Taylor, legal director of Nominet, the registry for .uk domain names (and besides Graham the only non-US panellist), reminded the host that “there are many voices of dissent for that role.” Ray Plzak, president of ARIN, the North American Internet protocol address registry, recommended that ICANN sign host country agreements with other countries than the United States. While Nominet does not view continued US oversight as problematic, Taylor said with regard to further privatization, “If you focus just on an operational task list of ICANN, you might adopt a too narrow view.” Taylor recommended the US administration should take into consideration the dissent voiced most prominently at the UN-led World Summit of the Information Society (WSIS). The US Department of Commerce had set a list of tasks for ICANN to fulfil before the memorandum of understanding can come to an end. ICANN’s Independence: Too Soon or About Time? Graham and most of the other panellists were opposed to a fully privatized ICANN at this point in time, and recommended a further extension of NTIA’s oversight of ICANN. Not only has ICANN not yet achieved what has been set out in the memorandum of understanding, but ICANN also had to recognize “that it is a quasi-judicial body and it must begin to behave that way,” Graham said. The ICANN board must provide minutes, notices of what issues would be considered at meetings, and summaries of positions put forward on the issues, Graham said, adding: “There needs to be an analysis of the issues. There needs to be an explanation of the decisions and the reasons for it. And there needs to be mechanisms for the board to be held accountable by its community.” Representatives of the registrar, business and trademark constituencies of ICANN also warned against letting ICANN become independent now. Tim Ruiz, vice president of domain services for registrar GoDaddy said transition to a fully privatized ICANN would be premature as three additional principles – transparency, openness and accountability – must be added to the existing four in the memorandum. GoDaddy has been an outspoken critic of some ICANN board decisions, especially the re-delegation of the .com registry to US company VeriSign. Ruiz also warned that a privatized ICANN might be overtaken by the United Nations, where some officials have been eyeing increased Internet control. “We have to make sure that it is mature enough to resist that kind of thing,” said Ruiz. In essence, registries act as domain name wholesalers, and registrars as the retailers. David McGuire, communications director at the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), had the same concern. McGuire also said privatization is premature. With no US government backstop, “next time something like WSIS comes up the outcome could look different.” CDT also was critical about a lack of representation of the public interest. McGuire reminded the audience of the ICANN elections that had been given up with no fully functioning structures for representation of users so far. Public Interest Role Shrinks Public interest groups continue to struggle to organize the At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) that allows user representation only via membership in consumer groups or civil rights groups. These organisations have to set up Regional At-Large Advisory Organisations (RALOs). The structure has been criticized as too complicated while their role in ICANN has shrunk to mere “advisors”. In the original ICANN structure, users were to vote on half the members of the ICANN Board. Michael Heltzer, manager of external relations of the International Trademark Association (INTA), meanwhile asked to put an end to the current weighted voting system and return to a “one constituency-one vote” principle, for example in the election of board members. At this time registries and registrars as “contracting parties” get more votes. At the same time compliance and enforcement of contracts is a problem, says Heltzer. “Some registrars are getting into the cybersquatting business,” he said. “This should not be tolerated.” Compliance also is a problem with regard to ‘Whois’ contact information for website owners, which is managed by ICANN. Open Whois access had been part of the memorandum of understanding, he said, noting its role in law enforcement. “Certainly privacy is an important issue, but counterfeiting is on the rise,” he said. The voices at the hearing for a bolder path to a privatized ICANN came from ICANN-related Internet organisations like the Internet Society and its Public Interest Registry, the Number Resource Organisation, and the Internet Systems Consortium that manages one of the original 13 root name servers underlying the Internet. 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