U.S. to Relinquish Control of Internet Address System

The U.S. plans to hand over control of the system for assigning website addresses to a non-government entity, an Obama administration official said.

The nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is being asked to convene interested groups from around the world to develop a proposal to transition the system, said Lawrence Strickling, administrator of the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

“We will not accept a proposal that replaces the NTIA role with a government or intergovernmental organization,” Strickling said on a conference call with reporters today.

The move represents the final phase in the U.S. government’s effort to privatize the backbone of the Internet that provides websites with their unique identifiers, which are essential for users to find what they’re looking for online. U.S. control over Internet functions has come under attack from privacy advocates and foreign governments in the wake of revelations about National Security Agency spying.

The U.S. will let its contract with the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority expire on Sept. 30, 2015, Strickland said. It isn’t clear yet what groups will take over the responsibilities to maintain unique codes and numbering systems that are used in the technical standards that drive the Internet.

U.S. Stewardship

The U.S. is fulfilling a pledge it made as far back as 1998 to relinquish control of the Internet’s domain name system, Fadi Chehade, president and chief executive officer of ICANN, told reporters on the conference call.

“We thank the U.S. government for its stewardship, for its guidance over the years,” Chehade said. “And we thank them today for trusting the global community to replace their stewardship with appropriate oversight mechanisms.”

The transition in oversight isn’t being done in response to revelations about NSA spying, revealed in leaks by former government contractor Edward Snowden, Chehade said.

“The world wants to participate increasingly in how we shape it together,” he said. “That’s why now.”

ICANN plans to begin a consultation process with interested groups March 24 during a meeting in Singapore, Chehade said. He said he’s confident companies and nonprofit groups with the proper qualifications will develop a transition process without disrupting Internet operations.

New Structure

Created in 1998, ICANN manages the Web and has taken over Internet duties that used to be directly controlled by the U.S. government. The Los Angeles-based organization has primarily been responsible for opening up the Internet’s addressing system to new names to the right of the dot, known as domains, adding .biz, .info. and other domains to the original .com, .net and .org.

The U.S. will seek a new structure that involves groups that have a stake in the management of the Internet, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force, and that maintains the security, stability and openness of the Web, Strickling said.

Pressure has been building internationally for the U.S. to give up the last vestiges of control over the global computer network. The administration of President Barack Obama and several other nations refused to sign a telecommunications treaty at a United Nations conference in Dubai two years ago, saying new provisions could allow Internet regulation and censorship by governments.

Congress has favored efforts to promote a global Internet free from government control in order to advance the current decentralized model of Web governance by technical groups such as ICANN.

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