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Yes, Getting The US Government Out Of 'Managing' Internet Domain Governance Is A Good Thing

from the moving-on dept

A little over two years ago, when the Commerce Department officially announced plans to “relinquish control” over ICANN’s IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) we tried to explain why people should stop freaking out. There were a bunch of people up in arms, claiming that the US government was “giving away the internet.” That was, and still is, complete hogwash. There are two important things to understand in this. First, the Commerce Department’s “oversight” over ICANN and IANA is already basically non-existent. It was always more on paper than in reality, as the Commerce Department, rightly, took a totally hands off approach. Second, there has been a big effort by foreign governments, mainly Russia and China, to take control over the internet, and strip it from ICANN, and putting it in the ITU, a confusing mess of an organization that’s a part of the UN, but heavily controlled by governments without input from actual technologists or public interest groups.

A key part of the Commerce Department’s “transition” plan was that it would basically erase the almost entirely imaginary link between IANA and the Commerce Department, but only if a plan was created that kept IANA independent and not as a part of the UN or any organization that would lead to mostly government control, as opposed to what everyone (unfortunately) likes to call a “multistakeholder process” (which just means not just government in the room). And with that plan in place, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) has now come out in support of this plan.

The U.S. Commerce Department?s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced today that the proposal developed by the global Internet multistakeholder community meets the criteria NTIA outlined in March 2014 when it stated its intent to transition the U.S. Government?s stewardship role for the Internet domain name system (DNS) technical functions, known as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions.

The announcement marks an important milestone in the U.S. Government?s effort to complete the transition of the Internet?s domain name system and ensure that the Internet remains a platform for innovation, economic growth, and free speech.

For the last 18 years, the United States has worked with businesses, technical experts, governments, and civil society groups to establish a multistakeholder, private-sector led system for the global coordination of the DNS. To accomplish this goal, in 1998, NTIA partnered with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a California-based nonprofit, to transition technical DNS coordination and management functions to the private sector. In 2014, NTIA initiated the final step in the privatization process by asking ICANN to convene global stakeholders to develop a plan to complete the transition away from NTIA?s remaining legacy role.

Now, you would think that “small government” types would be happy about the US government completing its “privatization” of internet governance. But, that’s because many “small government” types are only small government types when it suits them. Senate Ted Cruz and Rep. Sean Duffy have rushed out a bill, called the “Protecting Internet Freedom Act” that would block the Commerce Department from completing the privatization of the internet. This is both silly and counterproductive.

The Commerce Department’s flimsy and never really used “control” over NTIA is basically meaningless yet it’s frequently used by foreign governments and the ITU/UN as a reason for taking complete control over the IANA process. And that’s only ramped up in recent years due to concerns about the NSA and surveillance. In other words, the US having any official control over internet governance is actually helping authoritarian governments by making the argument that US “control” over the internet is only helping the NSA. By separating IANA from the US government, but keeping the overall process as one that is not controlled by any government, you actually have a better chance of keeping the internet functioning in an open manner. Leaving it under the US government control, no matter how flimsy that link really is, only gives foreign governments useful fodder for a more complete move to take over control themselves.

Eli Dourado, who has spent a ton of time digging into and being involved in internet governance issues, has a great and detailed post about why this transition is a good thing and should be supported. It has all of the relevant history here (including my favorite point about how prior to ICANN, the IANA functions were controlled one dude, Jon Postel, who more or less declared himself the czar over how the domain name system was managed). But he also gets directly to the point: Congress forcing the US government to keep this “control” over IANA would do much more harm than good:

In truth, authoritarian regimes would love nothing more than to see the IANA transition fail. It would give them another shot at taking the issue to the ITU, this time with the added ammunition of pointing out that the United States does not keep its word regarding Internet governance. Oddly, this places Cruz and Duffy on the same side as Russia and China, against the world?s democracies, the Obama administration, sober Republicans, virtually every US tech company, the Internet Society, and virtually every freedom-loving intellectual or activist I have met who has participated on a US delegation to the ITU.

Separately, he also points out that for all the hype over this, the IANA function is actually not nearly as important as some make it out to be. The US government losing whatever sense of “control” it had over it is unlikely to have a huge impact on the internet itself. So the “costs” to this transition are basically nil. The cost to keeping the paper control in place, however, may be very large, in that it provides tremendous ammunition to foreign authoritarian regimes to push for much more extreme changes to internet governance that would be much, much worse.

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Comments on “Yes, Getting The US Government Out Of 'Managing' Internet Domain Governance Is A Good Thing”

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19 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The thing you probably don’t realize is that there are boundaries on the internet, though flimsy they may be. So we have the Great Firewall of China, DNS blocking by the UK, US (ICE), and Australian court systems, et al. So in point, relinquishing the control that they have now will have no effect on either opening up or closing down the barriers that already exist. In short this is basically just a requirement that we have to do, because we agreed to it. Failing to do so now, like Mike and Eli Duarado stated, will have repercussions though.

Anonymous Coward says:

DNS is Sayres Law incarnate.

From the quoted article:

“Finally, it is far from clear that name-to-IP-address resolution is the best way to structure Internet browsing in the first place” … “we could take a significant step toward de-territorializing the Internet”

Thanks for the post TD! I will be reading the protocol specs on IPFS tonight. Though I would disagree with the de-territorializing part of the original article.

The Internet will become VERY territorial when DNS is finally put to bed. The only question that remains is whether those territories are defined by netizens, or by corporate enterprises.

If the territories are defined by netizens, then this isn’t such a bad thing. There have always been localized private services on the Internet, and extending that to the naming system does not constrain anything per se.

However if administrative boundaries are inherently constrainable by the protocol architecture, or if there is a delay in implementation and acceptance such that workarounds can be build to create constraints, then all is lost. So it will be important, that when the shift occurs, it occurs quickly.

There needs to be enough adoption to provide for the defense of the next gen system, BEFORE the same bastards who screwed up DNS get wise to the new system. (Incidentally, I’m not talking about the regulatory agencies, but the DNS hijackers and miners) Second, whatever it is, it needs to be patent lefted.

Striving for intercompatibility is not a behavior that can be reasonably expected from carriers anymore. They are pretty much all pissing in the well at this point. So you can expect that unless there is a consortium, and intellectual property governance able to legally defend the freedom giving attributes of the next gen system, that system will not be providing freedom for very long.

A working code implementation is one thing. Resisting EEE, and corporate technological sadism is something else entirely.

Anyway. Thanks again!

Jim says:

But:

Oh, agreed. My only complaint, is who will now uphold free speech. And, who will allow it? The oligarchy controlling the US, doesn’t like it. Some one may actually find out, who is pushing the buttons, what are they afraid of? Peace? Agreed, no one has ever tried it.
Along with speech, who will support open investigation without an agenda. See, I’ve limited the internet there, you have no access to true information. Only propaganda. Yellow press again. Without a free and open press, the ruling few get away with murder, again. And again. Who would expose the mercury in certain vaccines that are given to newborns. Remember mercury attacks the developing CNS of newborns, so why is it in American vaccines? That’s still hidden, but there are no good papers on mercury. Except as poisions and possible, chemical agents and fertilizer stabilizer used in explosives. Oh,and agents to kill bugs, but we give it to newborns. Smart?
That’s not all, since the press in the US is all day! Rah rah! For Republicans of the birch society. AKa now, the tea party. We get less news of what is going on in the world, who was bad there, less historical context on why more on the rest of the world is bad, they want, the science is settled! And no other opinion counts.
So the few who question, will get silenced. Back to the one world hegemony of silence, those we need to listen to for countering viewpoints, will, are going to be silenced.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: But:

“so why is it in American vaccines?”

Because, in 1928, some vaccine was contaminated, and 11 children died. It’s used as a preservative.

The type of mercury in vaccines is ethylmercury, which is less toxic than methylmercury. (Kind of like how methanol is more toxic than ethanol.) And the amount has been reduced, so it’s below what would be dangerous even if it WAS the more dangerous kind of mercury.

If you insist that it’s too dangerous for your kids, despite practically all kids getting the vaccinations and being fine, then know that there ARE some vaccines which contain no mercury at all. For example, the MMR vaccine, hepatitis A and B vaccines, and the polio vaccine. And some, like the influenza vaccine, are available in mercury-free forms. So at least please do the research and get your kids vaccinated with those.

John David Galt (profile) says:

This is misguided.

The present domain name system are not controlled by the US government, but by a non-profit foundation, ICANN.

The proposed change would be to move it under the United Nations and its ITU, thereby enabling nasty, censoring governments like Red China and Saudi Arabia to get control.

This must not happen.

Anyone reading Techdirt should not need to be told this.

R.H. (profile) says:

Re: This is misguided.

Did you read the article? This move is to completely break the link between ICANN, IANA, and the US Commerce Department without giving them to the ITU. What’s happening is that ICANN and IANA are being fully privatized so that no government can control them directly.

This is effectively the compromise position since no one sensible wants the United States to maintain even the illusion of control over the DNS system but, even fewer people want Russia, China, and other internet censors to have any control over it as they would if it became part of the ITU.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This is misguided.

It is pretty irrelevant since compliance is best effort anyway. The policy guys don’t actually have much ability to enforce anything, they just manufacture consensus.

There has been hanky panky going on since the beginning. In terms of routing, this is handled by the network engineers themselves for the respective networks. Actual routing policy is decided by the engineers, with some input from their executive staff. There is some thumbing the scales for strategic interests, but mostly it is about network health.

In the case of DNS, the fundamental weaknesses of the DNS protocol have been a known factor for decades on now. Really what has happened is that instead of focusing on replacing it, all of the players have just mutually agreed that using DNS to hack consumer data is an acceptable practice.

DNS hijacking and mining are crimes IMHO. Whatever the next iteration is, hopefully it will fix this. But that iteration is clearly not going to come from the registrars or cable cabal, or ICANN. Too many corporations are dependent on criminally derived revenue streams at this point for any kind of consensus to happen. In turn ICANN, or it’s derived version will do absolutely nothing until market forces compel a replacement for deprecated technology. (which IMHO, includes IPv6)

It boils down to this: Homey don’t route packets. Homey don’t patch IOS. And DNS is just way too easy to hack.

Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

Critical Infrastructure Needs To Be Regulated By Government

Imagine if your roads were owned by private companies—would you relish the prospect of paying a toll every time you went to the supermarket?

Certain basic infrastructural services need to be regulated, if not managed outright, by Government. Most countries that privatized their phone monopolies back in the 1980s/1990s soon discovered that the “last mile”—the copper lines running into every home—turned out to be a rather strategic asset with the invention of ADSL, so they had to find ways of renationalizing it again.

Countries like Australia and NZ, that are putting in nationwide fibre networks, are doing it under very careful Government oversight—no Capitalistic free-for-all to be seen at this level. Free-market competition will come in at layer 2 and above.

John85851 (profile) says:

Cruz has always been against Obama

I think the key phrase is:
… this places Cruz and Duffy… against… the Obama administration
Cruz has been fighting Obama almost since day one, with no regard to the damage it does. Remember that this is the same Ted Cruz who forced a government shutdown because he told Congress not to work with Obama over the Affordable Care Act, even though the Supreme Court had already ruled it legal.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Cruz read the bill or even know what it does, since the most important thing is that he’s against it because Obama is for it.

rattrap says:

you hurt someones feelings…we just take your domain away…forever!You mentioned an article in a magazine…international copy right violation so guess what…we take you out of the internet!They’ve already got the worst censorship rules ever known in this world and we just gave those socialist eugenics psychopaths the biggest weapon they could wield.Obama the traitor to humanity we think you should be tried and executed

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