For many people who use the Internet in their daily lives, acronyms such as ICANN and IANA seem foreign. These are the governing bodies that maintain stewardship over all the domain names and IP addresses registered and allocated around the world. As of midnight at September 30, 2016, the United States has relinquished control of IANA to ICANN, effectively giving up its influential stake on the Internet, as some would put it. Of course, there are a ton of things to be discussed, especially for those of you who are unfamiliar with these acronyms.
The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) is a department of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) responsible for the allocation of every unique name and number used to identify a device or server communicating on the World Wide Web. Until September 30, 2016, ICANN had limited control of this department, beholden to a contract from the United States Department of Commerce. From that date onward, the non-profit organization has (technically) been given free reign over IANA.
Although IANA isn’t necessarily “the Internet,” it does possess stewardship over your IP address and any domain names for any websites you own. Its name was established in 1988 (here’s the record), and its functions were referenced back in the 70s during the era when the Internet was largely a government project (ARPANET, the first computer network).
Does This Mean the U.S. No Longer Has Control Over Its Asset?
This question is difficult to answer since the handover was to a non-profit organization operating in California. It’s a privatization to a U.S.-based entity, but the government no longer has influence over what happens with IANA anymore. Whether you believe this is a good or a bad thing depends on whether you want a more globalized stakeholder system controlling how these names and numbers are distributed.
What the Pro-Transition Side Says
People who favor the IANA transition usually do so with the intent of a globalized multi-stakeholder model of the Internet where large-scale innovators such as Google have a larger say in managing it. Google’s Senior VP – Kent Walker – has said that “it will give innovators and users a greater role in managing the global Internet.” Further in his statement, he said that the Internet is composed of “companies, civil society activists, technologists, and selfless users around the world” and implied that we must ensure that “the right people” are placed in a more pivotal position to continue its development.
The Internet Association – a lobby group with members like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter – attended a last-minute hearing to defend the transfer.
This isn’t something new. Back in 2013, a number of government representatives, activists, and academics held a meeting called the “Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance” to discuss the creation of a new Internet governance organization. Despite the plan’s failure, the White House later announced that it will allow the contract with the Department of Commerce to expire, an event that ultimately led to IANA’s transition.
What the Anti-Transition Side Says
People against the IANA transition will often cite the fact that the status quo allowed the Internet to be partially tied to a government that is constitutionally bound by a right to freedom of expression. They perceive the transition as a hands-off approach to the Internet that may leave its future vulnerable to governmental organizations that do not share these values. By handing over control of unique domain names and numbers to ICANN completely, it sets a precedent that could minimize the principle of an “open Internet.” In 2012 the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) held a meeting in Dubai with several government leaders who signed a binding measure which showed a keen interest in having a larger stake of the Internet. Many of the countries that attended the conference for international telecom regulation had or continue to have shaky records regarding freedom of expression online (the list of signatories and non-signatories is visible here).
While the ITU’s agreement has little to do with the IANA transition, the event itself has left many people’s eyebrows chafing because of the paradigm the timeline as a whole establishes.
As uncertain as the future might seem, here’s how things stand as of the autumn of 2016: ICANN is an independent non-profit organization whose goal is the stewardship of IP addresses and domain names around the world. It is not necessarily “the Internet,” nor is it an entity that will trouble itself with the content of what is hosted on any particular IP address or domain name. Google would be in more of a position to perform that role with its own search engine (i.e. dropping websites from its search results pages). And even then there are alternatives. It’s doubtful that the handing over of complete authority over IANA to ICANN poses a significant threat to freedom of expression for the time being, nor does it appear that it would necessarily benefit tech giants. As it stands from the decision finalized on the first of October 2016, the domain name system and number allocation of the Internet was simply shifted to an independent entity from a department of the U.S. government. Nonetheless, we should all keep our eyes on ICANN to make sure it serves its duty properly.
What do you think? Are you pro or against the IANA transition? Tell us why in a comment!