Today, September 30th will be a day like every other to most people using the Internet, but today the Internet changed.
The U.S. government handed over its unilateral control over the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), relinquishing its stewardship role of the Internet Assigned Names and Numbers Authority (IANA). IANA is responsible for maintaining the Domain Name Server (DNS): the crucial technology that matches domain names with their respective IP addresses – essentially the Internet’s phonebook or directory – allowing individuals to find websites and content online. Without the DNS the Internet would not function in the seamless way it does today, and you would need to remember a lot of numbers in order to be able to visit a website.
The oversight role of the U.S government over ICANN arose due to the heavy involvement of the US government in the development of the technologies which underpin the Internet. But the Internet does not belong to the US, or to any other government, and neither should the oversight of one of its crucial technical functions. The US’s stewardship of IANA simply does not fit anymore in today’s globally connected world: the Internet’s management should be as global as the network itself.
There has been a lot of turmoil surrounding IANA, especially in U.S. politics, mostly stirred up by Senator Ted Cruz, and various conservative thinktanks and institutes. They argued that Internet freedom would disappear if the stewardship of the IANA functions were no longer under U.S. oversight. The opposite is true. The IANA stewardship transition from current unilateral U.S. oversight to the multistakeholder community is vital to maintaining the open, free and accessible nature of the Internet.
ICANN will keep doing the same work it has always done, with the exception of no longer doing it under contract of the U.S. government. What has really changed is not so much the technical functioning of the Internet, but rather the politics of how it is governed.
These reforms send a message to the world: the multistakeholder model of Internet Governance works. It also sends a strong message to the various countries interested in nationalizing the Internet, or bringing its governance under the UN’s wings, where it would most likely be opened up to heavy influence of national policies, which would, in many cases, negatively impact freedom of expression and access to information online. ARTICLE 19 is one of the signatories of a letter that reiterates the importance of the transition for the reasons outlined above.
Last (but not least) the transferal of the IANA functions is a confirmation of the trust in the proposal developed by the ICANN community – to improve its accountability – that legitimizes ICANN as the first of its kind – multistakeholder model of Internet Governance.
ARTICLE 19 welcomes the decision of the U.S. Commerce Department to let the contract asserting its oversight role over the stewardship of the IANA functions laps, and the opportunity to further develop the work on human rights at ICANN.
Notes to Editors
ARTICLE 19 actively works in ICANN to mainstream human rights in Internet Governance. It does so by chairing the Cross Community Working Party on ICANNs Corporate and Social Responsibility to Respect Human Rights, co-chairing the Workstream 2 Sub-Group on Human Rights and participation in the Cross-Community Working Group on Accountability (CCWG Acct) in ICANN.
ARTICLE 19 also works on mainstreaming human rights in Internet Protocol development.