March 14, 2014

U.S. ‘Transitioning’ Domain Name Functions to ‘Global Multistakeholder Community’; Politico Takes Eight Paragraphs to Name Likely Candidate

In a late Friday afternoon release, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced its intent “to transition key Internet domain name functions to the global multistakeholder community.” The statement is full of the kind of dense bureaucratic language one tends to see when the agency is doing something really important but controversial.

Stating the situation more clearly, TheDomains.com calls it “the Offical Statement Of The US Giving Up Control Over ICANN” (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). Americans for Limited Government has issued a press release “blasting the Obama Commerce Department for turning over control of the Internet to United Nations International Telecommunication Union.” The one story in the press as of 7:30 p.m. was at the Politico, whose Erin Mershon appears to have caught wind of the news ahead of NTIA’s release. Mershon takes eight paragraphs to tell readers to whom the functions are to be transitioned — and I don’t think her dallying is mere sloppiness (bolds are mine):

Internet control to shift from U.S. to global stage

UnitedNationsITUlogo

The U.S. Commerce Department is relinquishing its hold over the group that manages the Internet’s architecture amid pressure to globalize its functions in the wake of reports about NSA surveillance.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration, a Commerce Department agency, said Friday it is transitioning the function to the “global Internet community.” The decision marks a dramatic change. Since the Internet’s inception, the United States has played a leading role in the management of critical back-end Web work, including management of .com and other domain names. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has performed those functions under U.S. Commerce contract since 2000.

The United States will give up its oversight role when the current contract with ICANN expires in fall 2015, said NTIA Administrator Larry Strickling said. He set out a series of four principles required for the transition, including that ICANN maintain the openness of the Internet. Some U.S. officials and businesses have expressed fears about the United Nations, or governments like Russia and China, taking over control of the Web.

… ICANN, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, has been pushing to transform itself into a global organization without U.S. oversight. European Union officials have strongly backed the globalization campaign, which has picked up steam in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaks about the NSA’s sprawling surveillance programs.

“We thank the U.S. government for its stewardship, for its guidance over the years, and we thank them today for trusting the global community to replace their stewardship with the appropriate accountability mechanisms,” said ICANN President Fadi Chehade, who joined Strickling on the call.

Some U.S. officials have warned about the dangers of ceding ICANN’s authority to the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations agency, fearing countries like Russia and China could use it to allow online censorship. Congress unanimously passed a resolution ahead of a 2012 ITU meeting, highlighting the U.S. commitment to keeping the Internet free from government control.

Daniel Castro, a senior analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation … he warned that ICANN would not be held accountable without U.S. control.

“If the Obama Administration gives away its oversight of the Internet,” he said, “it will be gone forever.”

Despite Mershon’s vague language, there’s no reason to believe that the ITU is not the likely beneficiary of the “transitioning.”

ITU describes itself at its About page as “the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs).” ITU “currently has a membership of 193 countries and over 700 private-sector entities and academic institutions.” Its exposure to pressure from undemocratic nations would appear to be significant.

Its home page (saved here), with a reference to how ICTs can enhance “smart water management” (i.e., exert control over water resources) seems to be betray the usual mission creep such organizations develop. Imagine what they can do with the Internet.

I don’t think it’s an accident that NTIA’s annoucement made no reference to the UN or ITU. It’s also isn’t mere sloppiness which caused Politico’s Mershon to wait eight paragraphs to tell us what every reader would want to know — who will be getting control of ICANN assuming the Obama administration gets its way — if it isn’t a done deal already.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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