Group suggests a 'denationalization' of ICANN

Several academics are suggesting a "denationalization" of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the organization responsible for running the Internet, as a way to end an escalating scrap in government circles over U.S. control of the Internet.

The academics, all members of a group called the Internet Governance Project, have collaborated on a policy-concept paper, published earlier this week, that suggests ways to tackle the politically charged issue of Internet governance.

The issue is expected to dominate talks at the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which is scheduled to begin on Nov.16 in Tunis, Tunisia.

Numerous delegates now worry that the original intention of the summit - to bring the Internet to developing countries - could be overshadowed by the simmering debate over whether oversight of the Internet should be shared by governments around the world or remain the responsibility of one, the U.S.

The paper, Political Oversight of ICANN, cites various scenarios to help resolve the contentious issue, but concludes that a denationalization of ICANN is probably a better option than internationalization.

The report's authors suggest ending U.S. political oversight - the power to guide and direct ICANN's policies and management - while allowing continued U.S. policy authority over the DNS root zone file, which they view as less of an issue than oversight. The root servers guide requests to the massive databases that contain addresses for all the individual top level domains, such as .com and .net.

The authors claim that U.S. oversight contributes nothing to the technical security and stability of the DNS; real security, they argue, comes from the distributed nature of the DNS, the independence and technical expertise of the root server operators, and technical standards implementations such as DNSSEC (DNS Security).

An end to U.S. political oversight could be achieved by inserting a set of conditions into ICANN's memorandum of understanding (MoU) that would prepare the organization for release from its unilateral supervision.

The MoU, which has been renewed six times, is set to expire next year. The U.S. Department of Commerce has indicated it would let the MoU expire when it felt that ICANN had achieved maturity as an organization and a suitable record of accomplishment, according to the authors.

"It is a myth that U.S. oversight is a completely neutral and intrinsically harmless," the authors write. They give a recent example of such intervention: ICANN's decision to delay the creation of a .xxx top level domain for adult content. Earlier this year, the Department of Commerce intervened in ICANN to delay the creation of the adult content domain after being prodded by lobbyists from domestic religious groups close to the Bush administration.

The authors, including professors Milton Mueller from Syracuse University and Hans Klein from the Georgia Institute of Technology, believe ICANN could be revamped to meet the demands of many governments to be allowed in policy making and supervision by allowing equal, multistakeholder participation on its board and establishing clear, transparent and predictable rules and procedures for administrative decision-making. These were among the list of conditions proposed by the WSIS Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus at a meeting last month.

The policy paper of the academics in the Internet Governance Project can be downloaded from the Web .

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