On Tuesday, major tech firms including Twitter, Google, Amazon, and Facebook urged congressional representatives to back a plan to transfer the Internet’s domain creation to the global community.
Currently, the U.S. oversights the Internet management since it is an American invention. But on Sept 30, the U.S. stewardship of the “www” domains expires. And if the U.S.A. abdicates, the U.N. may take control.
That’s why Republicans try to block the giveaway since they’re concerned that foreign agents may try to censor online content. If America gives up stewardship, other stakeholders may take control such as businesses, nonprofits, and even totalitarian governments.
The plan to transfer the internet oversight to other agents has been in the making for more than a year.
Internet’s Stewardship over the Years
To put things into context, a short recap is necessary. The U.S. has coordinated the domain names and IP addresses ever since the dawn of the Internet. Currently, the U.S. Department of Commerce holds this coordinating role.
Yet, although apparently the Internet is directly coordinated by the U.S. government, this is not the case anymore. The Commerce Department has subcontracted this task to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in 1998.
Before that, the Defense Department had handed over the responsibility to the University of Southern California.
ICANN’s sole purpose is to run Internet domain operations on behalf of the Commerce Department. In the meantime, however, it slowly grew into a global body. Although it is based in California, it has subsidiaries all around the world. Plus its governing panel includes representatives from more than 100 countries, companies, universities, and international organizations.
Internet Censorship Looming
The incoming change won’t alter the management, but opponents of the handover believe this may prevent the Internet from being free and uncensored. Critics argue that governments such as those in China and Russia may censor Internet users who criticize the system.
If ICANN adopts a U.N.-style of governance, with one country one vote, critics say it would give governments too much power. So, we could see commercial competition and freedom of speech rights stifled at the border.
For instance, France could seize “.vin” and “.wine” domains and allow only users that respect E.U.’s wine labeling restrictions to use them. Furthermore, only French champagne producers will be able to insert “champagne” into their website address.
Congress Can Step In
But U.S. Congress has the power to prevent the handover, if it votes against it. ICANN currently holds the keys to the hugely popular domain names such as .net and .com and the ISP addresses attached to them.
On Sept 13, several tech firms submitted an open letter urging Congress to keep the Internet “interoperable and stable” by transferring stewardship to the global community.
“[…] we remain committed to completing the nearly twenty year transition to the multi stakeholder model that will best serve U.S. interests,”
The firms wrote.
Republicans plan to hold a hearing on the issue Wednesday to see whether the transition would mean “giveaway of our internet freedom.”
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