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US prepares to hand over the internet naming system by 1st October 2016

Posted by: Robert Stokes
08/09/2016

The Internet’s Domain Naming System, otherwise known as DNS, is a vital part of the web’s inner workings.

 DNS works by pairing web addresses with the correct server so that websites can attach a name to their site rather than a series of numbers, referred to as an IP address. For example, instead of typing something like 10.7.16.18 into the browser, you can type certusrecruitment.com. 

The US has always had power over this system and originally just one man, Jon Postel, held ultimate control over assigning web addresses. Postel headed up the US’s National Telecommunications and Information Administrations or NTIA and was often referred to as “God of the internet” due to his significant contributions to the internet and related research. However, in 1998 the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, Icann, was created to take over this task. Now, nearly 20 years on from Icann’s inception, NTIA is prepared to hand over the job. This means that NTIA will no longer have any power to intervene in decisions related to Internet naming.

Icann, a private, not for profit organisation, will now have multiple stakeholders to answer to including countries, businesses and technical groups; all of whom could be interested in making some changes to the existing process.
There have been mixed feelings around this change in power, especially since the US have handed control over voluntarily. Many American officials, especially from a Republican standpoint, have opposed the move, claiming that this release in power makes way for countries like Russia and China to control and censor the internet which up until now has been “protected” by the US.

Senator Ted Cruz has protested that, “the proposal will significantly increase the power of foreign governments over the Internet.” Cruz’s argument has focused on the move giving totalitarian governments the opportunity to shut down parts of the world’s most important free medium. He has argued that if facilities are relocated across the globe, they could end up in the same building as the agency that is responsible for censoring a country’s internet. This brings up the question as to how much influence governments will now have over the foundations of the Internet. Icann has responded to these fears by claiming that the prospect of government interference is “extremely remote.”

The move from NTIA to Icann received general international support, even if it failed to garner support from the majority of the US. Some countries, in particular Russia and China, had made calls for domain names to be controlled by the United Nations International Telecommunication Union instead. However, other countries including the US, UK, Canada and Australia refused to accept this move due to the possible human rights abuse which could arise if the Internet’s fundamental foundations were led by a UN organisation rather than a private organisation. Further, UN control would mean that the countries would have more power over suppressing internet traffic and content.

The move, originally planned to complete in September 2015, was necessary for international relations following the US’s National Security Agency spying on foreign Leaders. However, Icann has been performing the majority of the job for many years now anyway, so users won’t notice any difference. Alan Woodward, Visiting Professor at the University of Surrey, has remarked on the situation “It marks a transition from an internet effectively governed by one nation to a multi-stakeholder governed internet: a properly global solution for what has become a global asset.”

 

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