After 16 years of being in control of a large portion of the Internet, the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is handing over oversight of the Domain Name System (DNS) to another organization. ICANN is technically run by many groups that are considered "stakeholders," but the U.S. Department of Commerce is largely in charge. Since the DNS is such an important part of the Web, allowing the U.S. to control it has been a point of concern for some.
The global entity that will take over the DNS has yet to be announced, though the Department of Commerce has said it would be an international non-governmental group. Without ties to any particular nation, the organization that replaces ICANN will presumably allow for a more open Internet that does not answer to one individual country.
Waiting Since 1998
No matter which Web site you are trying to visit, ICANN is probably responsible for the registration of that site's domain name. Since the DNS is crucial to the Web, the U.S. government has always had a central role in the system. Prior to 1998, Jon Postel, the founder of ICANN, was in charge of the DNS and reported directly to the government. However, Postel's death in 1998 resulted in other ICANN members taking over the job and eventually adopting the stakeholder model.
Once Postel was gone, ICANN took a pledge to turn over control of the Internet to an independent organization, and after Friday's announcement, the time to fulfill that pledge has finally come. When ICANN was being put together, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) was placed under its control and the partnership that IANA has with the U.S. government will be allowed to expire on Sept. 30, 2015.
Not the United Nations
Since the replacement of ICANN with another organization is only meant to ensure a free and open Internet, it has already been confirmed that a branch of the United Nations will not be receiving the control. Although the U.S. may have problems that are in need of solutions when it comes to the handling of Internet privacy, it has generally done a good job of promoting free speech online. However, things could end up differently if the UN were in control of the DNS.
China and Russia have requested that the UN be in control of the DNS, since that would potentially allow them to supervise the registration of domain names. Right now, China can prevent a Web site from being accessed through normal means but if someone were to use a VPN, for example, they could still access banned online content. If Russia, China, and other countries were able to put forward a UN proposition to prevent the registration of certain Web sites, they would be able to censor the Web completely.
With this in mind, Lawrence Strickling, administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an agency of the Commerce Department that advises the President on Internet issues, has stated that the DNS and other Internet controls will not be handed over to a "government or intergovernmental organization."