A plan to end a key US government oversight role on the Internet is on track for completion this year, the head of the online address gatekeeper said, in a symbolic move towards asserting the independence of the web.
While the transition will not change how the Internet works, it would help reassure users, businesses and governments about its integrity, according to Fadi Chehade, chief executive of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
Chehade told AFP the transition plan being prepared since early 2014 will be delivered to the US government in February, and that it could take place on September 30—a year later than originally planned.
If the US government approves the plan, “then the contract between ICANN and the US government which is set to naturally expire on September 30 will just expire,” Chehade said in an interview Wednesday in Washington.
Chehade said the private non-profit ICANN is effectively a “traffic cop” that ensures the Internet address system functions, and that the US government’s role has been merely to ensure that it follows correct procedures.
“In all the years we’ve done that (the US government) has never said we did not follow the process,” he said.
“People have aggrandized the role of the US government in what we do. But the change is actually minimal. It’s important symbolically because the US was really a steward for the Internet, but for day-to-day accountability, it is minimal.”
Who runs the Internet?
The US government, announcing its intention to end its role in March 2014, said it would seek to maintain a “multi-stakeholder” model for Internet governance—which allows virtually all users from business to academia to government to participate—instead of a “multilateral” system controlled by governments.
Chehade said that without US oversight, ICANN would be managing the technical functions of the Internet under the supervision of a 16-member board which is designed to maintain diverse representation.
“We have a very solid process that ensures this is not a capturable board,” which can be hijacked by governments or other institutions, he said.
He added that the transition plan seeks “to strengthen the assurances that ICANN will remain multi-stakeholder,” by giving Internet users more authority to appeal to overturn decisions or even to remove board members.
Chehade noted that even though the ICANN process can be “unwieldy,” most decisions are made by consensus, with very few disputed votes in the organization.
He added that he expects a fresh round of hearings in Congress, following complaints by some US lawmakers that Washington is “giving away” the Internet and suggestions that it could be controlled by other governments.
“I think the concerns Congress has raised are very justified and genuine and therefore being prepared to address them is crucial,” he said.
But Chehade noted that ICANN has effectively been handling its functions for a long time.
“The independence of ICANN has been proven to be working for many years,” he said.
“It’s been working and we are now simply admitting that. We are ending the symbolic role of the US government which should have been let go in 2000.”
ICANN chief urges wide Internet control
The head of the private agency that acts as gatekeeper for the Internet called Tuesday for international discussions to ensure control of the web remains decentralised.
Fadi Chehade, president and CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), called for the “preservation of a decentralised, transnational and not too fragmented governance” of the Internet.
He told a Geneva conference that the Internet should remain “polycentric” but that the private and public sectors should work together.
“Only initiatives involving the private sector and governments can successfully and effectively address crucial issues like cybercrime, taxation of e-commerce, and child protection,” Chehade said.
ICANN, which is in charge of assigning domain names, is likely to break free of US oversight late next year.
Washington said in March it might not renew its contract with the Los Angeles-based agency, provided a new oversight system is in place that ensures the Internet addressing structure is reliable.
“ICANN is not and shall not be an island disconnected from other stakeholders,” Chehade said.
The agency plans to submit a proposal on oversight to the US Department of Commerce next year.
In an interview published Tuesday in Swiss daily Le Temps, Chehade said the role of the United States—one of ICANN’s 147 member countries—would remain important.
“If our DNA remains American, our openness to the world is a reality.”
US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker pledged at a meeting of Internet leaders in October that the United States would “protect and preserve a free, vibrant and open Internet”.
Pritzker said that while the United States might not renew its contract with ICANN, it still had a responsibility to encourage a decentralised Internet.
“The United States will not allow the global Internet to be co-opted by any person, entity, or nation seeking to substitute their parochial world view for the collective wisdom of this community,” she said. – AFP
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