Internet-Naming Authority Needs Ethics Rules, U.S. Senator Says

Senator Ron Wyden
In a letter to Commerce Department officials, Senator Ron Wyden said the agency should include ethics and conflict-of-interest rules in any future contract to manage the domain-name system. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

The organization that manages the Internet’s domain-name system under contract with the U.S. Commerce Department should have “revolving door” ethics rules for its leadership, a U.S. lawmaker said today.

Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, wrote in a letter to the Commerce Department that it should include ethics and conflict-of-interest rules in a future contract to manage the domain-name system, which includes dot-com, dot-org and dot-gov.

Any group overseeing the system “is hugely important in regulating the multimillion-dollar domain name industry” and should be “subject to the same financial-disclosure, ethics or conflict-of-interest rules as executive leadership at federal agencies or in Congress,” Wyden wrote.

The nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has performed that function since 1998, and its current contract with the Commerce Department is due to expire in March.

Icann voted on June 20 to approve a plan to allow potentially hundreds of new Web suffixes such as dot-bank and dot-nyc to spur online innovation. Trade groups representing large corporations and advertisers have criticized the expansion, saying the change offers few benefits while increasing businesses’ costs.

Four days after the vote, Peter Dengate Thrush, the group’s chairman, finished his term and within a month joined a London company called Top Level Domain Holdings Ltd., which intends to acquire Web suffixes created by the new plan and offer Internet registry services.

Public Comments

Dengate Thrush’s move and that of another former Icann employee who joined the Financial Services Roundtable, a Washington-based lobbying group whose members include Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., drew criticism from government watchdogs.

The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which oversees the Icann contract, is reviewing public comments on whether the terms should be amended, and has said it is considering adding conflict-of-interest rules.

NTIA plans to open the contract for bidding this fall. The agency has received Wyden’s letter and plans to respond “in an appropriate manner,” Moira Vahey, an NTIA spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

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