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News analysis: U.S. weighs pros, cons of giving up control of Internet domain name system

English.news.cn   2014-03-23 16:00:21

by George Bao

LOS ANGELES, March 22 (Xinhua) -- The United States is weighing pros and cons of giving up the control of the world's Internet domain name system as opposition to the move is getting stronger in the country.

The U.S. government announced recently it was ready to transfer its stewardship of the Internet domain name system "to the global Internet community."

The U.S. current responsibilities to be transitioned include the procedural role of administering changes to the Domain Name System (DNS) and to the authoritative root zone file -- the database containing the lists of names and addresses of all top-level domains -- as well as serving as the historic steward of the unique identifiers registries for domain names, IP addresses, and protocol parameters.

Experts said there are just 13 top-level root servers (though there may be more) in the world's Internet system, all of which are controlled by the U.S. Department of Commerce, since the Internet has been developed in the United States.

The U.S. Commerce Department has contracted with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit organization based in Los Angeles, to operate the root DNS zones. Therefore, it is obvious that it is the U.S. government that actually controls the global Internet domain name system.

Under pressure from other countries, the Commerce Department has announced its intention to hand over control of the root DNS zones and other key functions to non-governmental hands. It originally planned to hand over the power by 2000, but that did not happen. Since then, the issue of "who controls the Internet" became politically heated.

ICANN announced on march 14 that it has launched a process to transition the role of the U.S. government relating to the Internet's unique identifiers system.

According to ICANN, the United States recognized ICANN's maturation in becoming an effective multi-stakeholder organization and requested that ICANN convene a global meeting on the transition from the U.S. stewardship to a global community consensus-driven mechanism.

"We are inviting governments, the private sector, civil society, and other Internet organizations from the whole world to join us in developing this transition process," said Fadi Chehade, ICANN's president and CEO.

However, ICANN said its role as administrator of the Internet's unique identifier system, remain unchanged. The Internet's unique identifier functions are not apparent to most Internet users, but "they play a critical role in maintaining a single, global, unified and interoperable Internet," ICANN announced.

ICANN said it would hold its 49th Public Meeting in Singapore, from Sunday to Thursday, which will summon representatives from governments, business, civil societies, non-government organizations, research institutions and others. Top on the meeting's agenda will be the U.S. government's recent announcement of transferring stewardship of key technical functions.

According to Chehade, by the time the current contract with the U.S. government expires in September 2015, ICANN "will have a defined and clear process for global multistakeholder stewardship of ICANN's performance of these technical functions."

However, opposition to the U.S. decision to surrender its control of the Internet to other countries is getting stronger in the country.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said Friday in Arizona that the U.S. should maintain control of the Internet's domain name system.

"Whatever you think our country has done wrong, the United States has been by far the country most committed to keeping the Internet free and open and uninterrupted," Clinton said at Arizona State University on Friday.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has strongly attacked the Obama administration's decision to turn over responsibility for Internet domain names to the international community.

Palin called the Obama administration's decision a "colossal foreign policy error" and the decision is likely to have "long-term negative repercussions for freedom."

Gautham Nagesh of the Wall Street Journal openly denounced the U.S. decision as "a concession by the U.S."

"While the Commerce Department rarely intervened publicly in ICANN's affairs, the implicit threat of its ability to do so will be gone. That could have an unforeseen impact in the future, particularly if cyber-weapons continue to play a larger role in military and counter-intelligence activities," wrote Nagesh.

However, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Commerce Department "does not want the U.N. to take over" and implied the U.S. would not abdicate responsibility until a satisfactory system was in place.

Therefore, whether the U.S. government will really give up its control of the Internet remains a question and the transition process could not be smooth.

Spectators held that even the transition could finally be made, the U.S. government still has its way to control or influence the Internet through other means.

According to www.digitaltrends.com website, the U.S. government considers itself has the authority to shut down any domain in a registry, and America has been clear it does not want to see another government or inter-governmental group take over root operations.

The United States may relinquish control of root function, but it is not going to be hands-off in matters of Internet governance, according to the website.

Editor: Yang Yi
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