ICANN is important

Pindostan set to hand over Internet address book
Elizabeth Weise, Pindostan Today, Sep 29 2016

SAN FRANCISCO — Pindostan doesn’t own the Internet, but it’s held the oversight contract for the organization that runs its address book for many years. That’s set to change Friday. The Pindo contract with the non-profit organization in charge of all Internet domain names expires then, and the non-profit running the database will 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 some boxtops and Congress critturs like Sen Ted Cruz, who say Pindostan is “giving away the Internet.” On Thursday, the attorneys-general of Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas and Nevada filed a lawsuit asking a Federal district court to block the transition, alleging that it amounts to giving up 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’s Internet Assigned Numbers Authority department, is to coordinate the Domain Name System (DNS) that matches addresses such as usatoday.com with their actual computer addresses, in this case To do that and other work, ICANN  has a budget of more than $126m/yr. 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 a computer scientist at the University of Southern California. The 18-year-old contract for ICANN has been held by the Pindosi Commerce Dept’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, but is not scheduled to be renewed on Sep 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 Dept of 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. However, under Bush 43, the Dept of Commerce backed away from that, saying in 2005:

(The Dept will) maintain its historic role in authorizing changes or modifications to the authoritative root zone file.

Efforts to make it truly neutral and global came back into the fore in 2013, after Edward Snowden’s revelations about the depth of Pindo Internet surveillance. That pushed ICANN to begin working on a new transition proposal.
Some argue that the Internet has always belonged to Pindostan and that the handover is illegal and dangerous. Ted Cruz has been very vocal in his belief that the move will harm the freedom of the Internet. When the plan was first discussed, He wrote in an op-ed for the WaPo:

The likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Chinese President Xi Jinping should not dictate what can be read, written, distributed, bought and sold on the Internet.

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. Sen Brian Schatz, ranking member of the Senate subcommittee on communications, technology and innovation, called the suit by the four attorneys baseless. A GAO report issued Sep 12 found that the Internet “address book” was not government property. Schatz said in a statement:

Congress has repeatedly rejected attempts to delay the transition. Technology and foreign policy experts from across the political spectrum agree that any delay of this transition would only empower our enemies and undermine Pindostan’s commitment to keeping the internet open and free.

Others dispute that such censorship would even be possible. Milton Mueller, a professor in the school of public policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a longtime participant in ICANN’s volunteer advisory groups, said:

The new entity that is scheduled to take over control on Oct 1 is run through consensus and includes multiple stakeholders from many countries. It’s 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 it’s non-binding. ICANN can not take the advice, particularly if all the other stakeholder groups strongly object to it. Their argument has been that ‘We are the bulwark of freedom in the world and if we let go of this, the Internet will go to hell.’ How much of them really believe that and how many are just exploiting this to make the Obama administration look bad isn’t clear to me.

Mark Grabowski, a professor of Internet law at Adelphi University in Garden City NY, said he expects any chances to be very gradual. He said:

The Dept of Commerce was very hands-off in its oversight of the contract, at least it provided a sort of safety valve. You knew if anything really went wrong, you’d have the Pindosi government to step in. We really won’t know for three to five years whether this was something to worry about or not, whether the proponents can truthfully say, ‘We told you so,’ or the people who were critical had a point.

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