The Debate over ICANN’s Independence from the U.S. Government

There has been talk for quite some time about letting the Internet become independent from U.S. control under the organization Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or better known as ICANN. Specifically, ICANN oversees the functions of the Domain Name System (DNS) which is commonly thought of as “the phone book of the internet” (ICANN 2011). Originally, ICANN functioned as a non-profit organization under the IANA contract with the U.S. Government’s Commerce Department. However, talk of releasing it has come to an end and as of Oct 1. 2016, the proposed act was carried out and the internet officially has been released from U.S. government control to the Global International Community, most likely being the United Nations.

For those in opposition of the release of ICANN, their main concern is for what this means in regards to censorship. Prior to the exchange, as noted above, ICANN functioned under the contract and influence of the U.S. Government. And with that, control of the Internet was thought to be in “good hands”. “Giving up control” of the internet, as the Republican Party likes to phrase it, would be equivalent to giving up the freedom Americans have to post anything and see anything they want on the web. Now, they believe that autocratic regimes will be able to easily control and limit what is posted on the internet. Additionally, with ICANN supposedly being organized under the United Nations, such as set up is seen as making it even more accessible for authoritative countries to impose their power and control over the content on the web. Below is a Tweet that was sent out by Ted Cruz in disapproval of President Obama’s proposal to disband U.S. authority of the internet.

Ted CruzVerified account‏@tedcruz “Letting people speak online without being censored ought to bring every one of us together. Defend internet freedom:” http://cruzcrew.com/protect_the_net 

On the other hand, people, especially those that identify with the Democratic Party, are in favor of giving independence to ICANN and see it as a step in the right direction toward giving other countries more of a say in how the Internet is governed. It would be an inevitable step toward globalization. They argue that ICANN had little if any authority over censoring the internet prior to the termination of the contract. They advocate that domains such as .org, .com and .net are not governed by ICANN but are actually run by a number of U.S. organizations (David Kravets 2016). In other words, whether ICANN is independent of the U.S. or not will not have an effect on the ability of a country to seize control over many of the domains of the internet. Additionally, supporters of the exchange say that ICANN has always been a global organization, seeing as they have nearly 111 countries included in their representation (Katherine Maher 2014), so once again there would be no change in the way our current system is governed.

While both sides have very convincing evidence for their concerns about the transfer, or lack thereof, the biggest question I am left pondering is why would our government want to terminate the contract with ICANN if they advocate that doing such a thing would not change the way our current system operates? The claims they make are very contradictory in the sense that on one end they say that this switch would invite other countries to take part in the functions of the internet, but on the other end they advocate and provide evidence of the the notion that ICANN already operates as a global system so no drastic changes would take shape.

I am interested in what my fellow bloggers have to say about the switch. Do you think it will have an impact on our freedom over the internet, or do you think that the system will continue to run the same way it always has? Additionally, why do you think supporters of the exchange are advocating two contradictory themes?

References:
Kravets, D. (2016, September 30). Y2K 2.0: Is the US government set to “give away the Internet” Saturday? [Update]. Retrieved October 02, 2016, from http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/09/y2k-2-0-is-the-us-government-set-to-give-away-the-internet-saturday/

Maher, K. (2014, March 19). No, the U.S. Isn’t ‘Giving Up Control’ of the Internet Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/03/control-of-the-internet-104830#ixzz4LySrx0z9

What ICANN Does and Doesn’t Do. (May). Retrieved 2011.

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2 Responses to The Debate over ICANN’s Independence from the U.S. Government

  1. cckremer says:

    The internet censorship issue you bring up is a significant one and is fascinating to hear about in context of the ICANN rather than in the context of the internet service providers (ISPs) and users, as it typically is. I think one of the biggest reasons why the ICANN is being released is due to the surveillance scandals of the NSA and the growing realities of government run ISPs being able to systematically deny service to opposing internet functions. The distrust built up by the surveillance issue grew to a boiling point and likely caused people to think of the logical extension of the argument : “If they’re able to view everything, why can’t they also control it subversively?”. I know that this is a leap in logic; and that it is fearful thinking, but when governments can send fake time out requests [1], or completely shut off the internet [2], that fear seems completely reasonable.

    Of course, to accurately control the internet to make it “free” or “safe” we would have to have total control over the entire system; every individual ISP and every server host. As long as the ISPs and hosts are not government run, we should expect them to deliver a connection to users without interrupting service. The USA is great in this regard; there are thousands of ISPs all providing their own separate services that merely align together. To merely take someone’s name off a Domain Name System isn’t enough; I know so many people who have switched off of their ISP’s DNS to Google’s DNS so as to resolve domain names that the ISP didn’t want them to visit, and were able to access those sites without limitation after the fix. Also, as long as ISPs allow for users to connect to other computers in a larger system, they can access services such as Tor (The Onion Router), which would allow for connections to servers without DNS resolution, and users would be able to connect to every other user in the region. In face of that, I think our freedom will be severely limited once the ISPs start to bend to larger organizations and bend to government (or RIAA) pressure, banning outright connections to servers. Once that begins, there is an obvious precedent of denying user connections to pages or services, and we should expect a severe limiting of internet freedom. However, the ICANN only started support and control of the DNS system, and we should not expect to see significant changes once they change leadership. Even if they try to block services, I doubt they would be able to reach the entire world ISP set, so I think there would still be ways to maintain liberties (even if it was made difficult).

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