In the midst of all of the OBAMA IS GIVING AWAY THE INTERNET hysteria and hyperbole, something seemed rather odd. The back-channel “conspiracy theory” blogs and alternative news aggregate sites did not seem interested. In fact, other than The New American, when the topic did come up, it was either dismissed, or there was shoulder shrugging. There were odd commenters on many news threads doing the same. One would think given the amount of bandwidth and profits alternative news people would lose with a United Nations takeover, for example, that they would be a little more concerned about it.
It always did seem a little strange to this writer that turning over the DNS and ISP naming rights to a non U.S. government body was creating a lot of vitriol, even if it was the U.N. (Like the pope, how many divisions does the United Nations have without the American military?) The actual, physical internet doesn’t actually belong to any one entity, public or private. It’s more of a confederation. The only way to really “turn it off” is to pull the plug on the power grid. Yes, nations can control the flow of information within their borders – as can anyone with control over the gateways and routers, which are physical pieces of equipment – but the “handover” is about the U.S. Commerce Department (a cabinet-level agency that probably can go) transferring naming root-level OVERSIGHT to a non-profit in Los Angeles, California, and a company in Virginia. That means that the non-profit itself, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), and the corporation, Verisign, MUST FOLLOW U.S. LAW in the course of operations.
(ICANN does have a Charity Navigator listing. It is a 501(c) (3), but is not rated for some reason.)
In effect, the government is handing over management of naming DNS and ISP addresses, along with the root zone file of top-level domains to an organization that will need to perform in order to exist…as opposed to the government which can’t manage sand in the desert. (Who is paying the non-profit to operate is another question.)
Arstechnica has the best explanation. In addition to ICANN actually needing to follow U.S. law, other entities involved are also American and must follow U.S. law in their activities:
Regardless of who’s right or wrong in the ICANN changeover debate, one thing nobody can deny is that the United States will continue exercising a powerful hold over a great swath of the Internet—even under the transition. That’s because the companies that oversee the world’s most popular top-level domains (.com, .org, and .net) are based in the United States. These organizations must follow US law and abide by US court orders, and they have to remove websites from the global Internet when ordered to do so.
To date, these court orders are how the US government has seized thousands of websites it has declared to be breaking laws about intellectual property, drugs, gambling, and you name it. Kim Dotcom’s Megaupload file-sharing site fell because of this in 2012. The Bodog online sports wagering site was shuttered by the US that same year even though that .com domain was purchased with a Canadian register.
What’s more, even when a domain is registered under a handle that is outside of the United States’ official jurisdiction, the US government has international cooperation agreements with many countries that require foreign registries to abide by US directives….
The most simple answer is that a branch of the US Commerce Department will no longer have technical oversight of a contract (PDF) with ICANN and Verisign over the maintenance of the Internet’s DNS. Just like its endless deal to manage .com and .net, ICANN has already ceded Verisign the indefinite contractual rights (PDF) to manage the global Internet’s DNS root zone. Verisign can only lose the rights to renew these contracts if it doesn’t perform….
Government-speak aside, here’s what’s really happening: when there is a root zone change request from a domain registry, for example, this needs to be approved by the Commerce Department’s NTIA “before Verisign can act on it,” Akram Atallah, ICANN’s president of the global domains division, told Ars in a recent interview.
“In reality, the only thing that really changes is that NTIA will no longer approve these changes. We will send them to Verisign, and Verisign will have to update the root zone,” he said.
Apparently, then, the involvement with the UN is not direct, if happening at all, and main control of the root zone files and naming protocols of internet addresses will remain in American hands, if not the government’s. (A quick look at the ICANN staff indicates the vast majority of their employees are American, and based here.) How that meme, or idea took hold seems to have started with lawmakers, including Sen. Ted Cruz who has a countdown clock online, but has been denied by representatives from ICANN.
“The US government has never, and has never had the ability to, set the direction of the (ICANN) community’s policy development work based on First Amendment ideas,” ICANN said in a statement. “Yet that is exactly what Senator Cruz is suggesting. The US government has no decreased role. Other governments have no increased role. There is simply no change to governmental involvement in policy development work in ICANN.”
ICANN was developed in California to manage the task of keeping track of all the addresses. That task has always been done by a small number of people. Originally, the job was based with a single professor at the University of Southern California who passed away some years ago. According to all documentation, attempts to democratize the organization are amazingly messy. The preference is to keep this loose control in limited hands. Anyone who has dealt with a Board of Directors has sympathy for that concept.
Overall opposition to the transition appears to be largely political. Many GOP lawmakers (and the Trump campaign) are seemingly arguing that without US oversight, foreign governments or hacking groups from the Internet’s dark corners might take over, control the Internet, and censor it dramatically. What’s more, these critics suggest that without US oversight, the Internet’s infrastructure might crumble entirely. The World Wide Web would be left in a state of anarchy.
Several times in the past few days, comments, and this Arstechnica article, emphasize the same thing: U.S. government oversight has been more of a hindrance than a help, and that loss of the “control” is going to amount to Y2K Part Deux. It’s much ado about nothing.
The fact that .com, .net, and .org sites are run by US-based companies isn’t trivial, either. Verisign, of Virginia, maintains the global DNS Internet root zone system at the center of the ICANN transition debate, and the company has an indefinite contractual right from ICANN to manage the globe’s .com and .net domains. About 127 million of the world’s 334 million top-level domain name registrations worldwide are .com, according to Verisign. The .net domain comes in fifth place worldwide, and .org is sixth place. The .org domain is operated by the Public Interest Registry, also of Virginia.
Essentially, “control” of the majority of internet NAMING systems is under the jurisdiction of American law. The first amendment still applies.
That doesn’t mean we all don’t have to be careful about what we say.