Of­fi­cial plays down fears as U.S. cedes In­ter­net con­trol

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY MEGHAN DRAKE

As the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pre­pares to cede a key over­sight role for the In­ter­net and do­main names, tech­nol­ogy officials say the next chal­lenge for the Web will be to en­sure ac­count­abil­ity and pre­serve the In­ter­net’s open­ness as a global com­mu­ni­ca­tions and com­merce net­work.

As early as the fall of 2015, the In­ter­net Cor­po­ra­tion for As­signed Names and Num­bers (ICANN) will open up to the global In­ter­net com­mu­nity, con­sti­tut­ing a re­treat by the United States from the on­line lead­er­ship role it has tra­di­tion­ally held. The planned end of ICANN’s con­tract with the De­part­ment of Com­merce, which has caused a stir in the tech, busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal world, has given way to new wor­ries about the Web in­fra­struc­ture.

One con­cern is what in­di­vid­ual gov­ern­ments will do as the U.S. steps back.

“The govern­ment of Turkey can block ac­cess to all of YouTube within its bor­ders if it’s un­happy with one or two videos,” said Steve DelBianco, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor at NetChoice, a trade as­so­ci­a­tion of e-com­merce busi­nesses. “Turkey’s go­ing to do that, no mat­ter who’s in charge of ICANN.”

In the wake of sev­eral In­ter­net-based con­tro­ver­sies, from Wik­iLeaks to In­ter­net out­ages in Egypt, Web gov­er­nance has be­come a glob­al­ized is­sue. As ICANN’s tran­si­tion be­gins to take place, an­a­lysts say early doubts about ac­count­abil­ity and ac­cess have eased some­what.

“Con­trary to some ini­tial con­cerns that we’re giv­ing away the In­ter­net, the re­sponse from the global com­mu­nity has been over­whelm­ingly sup­port­ive,” Larry Strick­ling, ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Na­tional Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion, told a fo­rum hosted Tues­day by the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute.

Mr. Strick­ling said the ad­min­is­tra­tion was not giv­ing away Amer­i­can prop­erty, “as if we were propos­ing that the United States give Alaska back to Rus­sia.”

The fear that in­di­vid­ual gov­ern­ments and blocs of gov­ern­ments can con­trol the flow of in­for­ma­tion or dic­tate the shape of the net­work “re­flects a mis­un­der­stand­ing of the pol­i­cy­mak­ing process at ICANN as well as a mis­un­der­stand­ing of the mean­ing of the word ‘con­sen­sus.’”

“The In­ter­net does not re­spect na­tional bound­aries. No one coun­try, no two coun­tries, no 10 coun­tries can claim to speak on be­half of the pub­lic in­ter­est,” he said.

Part of the rea­son for the govern­ment’s move away from the In­ter­net gov­er­nance de­bate is the ris­ing pop­u­lar­ity of the multi-stake­holder model, giv­ing more ac­tors a voice in fu­ture de­ci­sions re­gard­ing In­ter­net gov­er­nance.

“The goal is to en­sure that you’re cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment in which all stake­hold­ers are — if not equally — sig­nif­i­cantly re­spon­si­ble and re­spon­sive to each other’s needs so that the net­work it­self re­mains to be global,” said Danny Sepul­veda, deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state and the de­part­ment’s point man on in­ter­na­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tions and in­for­ma­tion-pol­icy is­sues.

Tech­nol­ogy spe­cial­ists are calling for bet­ter ac­count­abil­ity in ICANN while the tran­si­tion takes place.

“I think it’s im­por­tant to ac­knowl­edge that ar­range­ments of tech­nol­ogy are al­ways also ar­range­ments of power,” said Laura DeNardis, Amer­i­can Univer­sity pro­fes­sor and au­thor of “The Global War for In­ter­net Gov­er­nance.”

Another is­sue to watch in the tran­si­tion to fall 2015 is mak­ing sure “that this re­la­tion­ship not be cap­tured or re­cap­tured by gov­ern­ments or gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions,” said David Gross, Wily Rein LLP part­ner and for­mer State De­part­ment of­fi­cial.

Mr. Gross noted re­cent calls by some French officials and sev­eral non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions for an in­creased role by the state and a re­or­ga­ni­za­tion of the struc­ture of In­ter­net gov­er­nance.

“I men­tion these things re­ally just to com­mu­ni­cate the chal­lenge that the com­mu­nity faces,” he said. “One of the things which I think all of us have learned over the years is that these things are not only con­stantly chang­ing, but are greatly in­flu­enced by geopo­lit­i­cal events glob­ally.”


The planned end of ICANN’s con­tract with the De­part­ment of Com­merce has given way to new wor­ries about the Web in­fra­struc­ture.

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