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US to cede oversight of Internet addresses

Washington, March 15: The US will give up its role overseeing the system of Web addresses and domain names that form the basic plumbing of the Internet, turning it over in 2015 to an international group whose structure and administration will be determined over the next year, government officials said yesterday.

Since the dawn of the Internet, the US has been responsible for assigning the numbers that form Internet addresses, the .com, .gov and .org labels that correspond to those numbers, and for the vast database that links the two and makes sure Internet traffic goes to the right place.

The function has been subcontracted since 1998 to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann, an international non-profit organisation, with the expectation that the US would eventually step back from its role. But that transition has taken on a new urgency in the last year because of revelations that the US intelligence community, particularly the National Security Agency, has been intercepting Internet traffic as part of its global spying efforts.

While other countries have called for the US to turn over the keys to the system, many businesses around the world, dependent on the smooth functioning of the Internet for their livelihood, have expressed concern about what form the new organisation will take.

“We don’t want to break the Internet,” said Laura DeNardis, a professor at American University and the author of The Global War for Internet Governance, a recent book on the subject. For consumers who use the Internet to stream movies or send email, nothing will change, if everything goes according to plan.

“We want to carefully transition to something that doesn’t just give the power to one stakeholder, but that takes into account the interests of private industry, of large users of the Internet, of the purchasers of domain names, of governments and of civil society,” DeNardis said.

Lawrence E. Strickling, the assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information, said yesterday that the US would not accept a proposal that replaced it with a government-led or inter-governmental organisation. The commerce department also laid out principles that must govern any new body, including maintaining the openness of the Internet and maintaining its security and stability.

Icann will conduct a meeting that will be the first step in the transition process, beginning on March 23 in Singapore. “We are inviting governments, the private sector, civil society and other Internet organisations from the whole world to join us in developing this transition process,” said Fadi Chehadé, the president and chief executive of Icann. “All stakeholders deserve a voice in the management and governance of this global resource as equal partners.”

While the announcements were structured to portray a cooperative global community, there has been widespread hostility towards the US since the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden began releasing documents showing the extent of US global spying. Those spying programmes had nothing to do with the role of the US or Icann in administering Internet addresses. But the perception that the US was pulling all the strings led to a global uproar.

President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil cancelled a planned visit to the US last year and called the activities “an assault on national sovereignty and individual rights” and “incompatible with relations between friendly nations”.

Brazil also announced it would host Net Mundial, a global meeting on Internet governance, in April in Să Paulo to discuss the coming transition.

But by announcing its plans before the Brazil meeting, “the US is trying to make sure the transition happens on its own terms, and that the US is setting the rules for the transition,” said Greg Shatan, a partner at the law firm Reed Smith in New York.

 
 
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