From National Public Radio on Friday, US To Relinquish Remaining Control over the Internet. A more technically informed take here over on Ars Technica, here.
The United States announced its intention on Friday of relinquishing its remaining control of the Internet.
In a statement, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration said it wants to relinquish its oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
Whether this is news or not depends on your point of view, of course. As the article notes calls for the US to give up control over ICANN have been growing louder. The article, quoting the Wall Street Journal, states that the role of Commerce “in overseeing the contract with Icann is largely clerical”. That’s not entirely accurate. In fact that contract gives the Commerce Department control over both the policies and budget of ICANN.
ICANN, which is spelled with CAPITAL letters because it isn’t the name of a particular rapacious investor but instead an acronym for the I nternet C orporation for A ssigned N ames and N umbers, something much more significant both in the history and ongoing operations of the Internet, and therefore of far greater impact on the real world (as opposed to the mythical gravity-free zone known as Wall Street), is one of the foundational institutions of the global Internet.
The Internet could no more work without ICANN than it can without the uncounted numbers of routers, relays, and engineers whose physical infrastructure make it possible for traffic to flow across the Internet. ICANN’s staff operate in a politics-free engineering environment where math, good sense and mutual enlightened self-interest govern.
ICANN’s role in assigning Internet Protocol addresses, Private Enteprise Numbers, and oversight of the Domain Name System, are high level engineering functions critical to the daily operations and future availability of Internet communications.
The fact that the WSJ uses the work “clerical” in the same sentence with ICANN’s name shows just how little they, and probably most people outside the information technology community, really understand about how things work. It shows a level of ignorance on par with that of a member of Congress who might compare IT system administration with janitorial services (oh wait, Rep. Mike Rodgers, R-MI, actually did that in reference to Ed Snowden).
Given the recent scandals over intentionally compromised security standards that have alternately called into question the integrity or competence of the Commerce Department, I’m not really surprised that the leadership of the agency would want to remove themselves from any further responsibility for ICANN. Recent advisories from NIST (the US National Institutes of Science and Technology) regarding encryption standards that they formerly recommended, the gist of which are that businesses and individuals should do their own homework and no longer rely on agency recommendations, this was probably inevitable.
It still remains to be seen what will become of ICANN, whether it will become an independent body or find itself under the umbrella of some international agency, but it seems to me that moving it out from under the control of any one nation state is a move in the right direction.
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