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US plan to end ICANN oversight could lead to 'Net censorship, lawmakers say

Grant Gross | April 3, 2014
A U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration plan to end its formal relationship with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers could open the door to Internet censorship by China, Russia or Iran, some U.S. lawmakers said.

A U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration plan to end its formal relationship with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers could open the door to Internet censorship by China, Russia or Iran, some U.S. lawmakers said.

The NTIA's plan to end its 16-year oversight of ICANN could embolden those countries to seek greater control of the Internet domain name system, several Republican members of a U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce subcommittee said during a hearing Wednesday.

Representative Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, questioned whether the NTIA plan, announced last month, contains assurances against an ICANN takeover by countries that want to censor the Internet. "Russia and China have made it very clear they want to suppress freedom," he said. "Russia and China have proven to be very resourceful in trying to figure out what that process is so they can manipulate it."

Under the NTIA's plan, the agency contract with ICANN to operate key domain-name functions would be allowed to expire, if the Internet community comes up with an acceptable alternative. The NTIA will not accept a transition proposal from ICANN that has government control "as its outcome," agency administrator Lawrence Strickling said. "Period. End of story, so it won't happen."

Some countries have been trying to influence ICANN's process for years without success, added Fadi Chehadé, ICANN's president and CEO. ICANN's community has not allowed that to happen, he said.

"No one has yet explained to me the mechanism by which any of these individual governments could somehow seize control of the Internet as a whole," Strickling added.

Still, some lawmakers questioned why the NTIA needs to end its contract with ICANN for the organization to operate the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions. "What's so wrong with the current system that we want to change it?" said Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican.

The NTIA proposal would make good on a long-time promise to transfer ICANN oversight to the Internet community, Chehadé said. In addition, the plan would take away a perception in some parts of the world that the U.S. government controls Internet governance, even though the NTIA role is largely symbolic at this point, he said.

The change "sends the right message to the world" that the U.S. government trusts a multistakeholder model of governance by the Internet community, he said.

Some Republicans called for the NTIA and ICANN to slow down the process. One possible date for a transition would be in September 2015, when the NTIA's IANA contract with ICANN expires, Strickling said.

Last Thursday, three Republicans introduced a bill, called the Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters (DOTCOM) Act, calling for a U.S. Government Accountability Office report on the potential impact before the transition happens.

 

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