Earlier in the week, the Obama administration announced that the US government will cede its authority over the Domain Name System(DNS) to a private entity on October 1. This has been in the works for years, and Obama announced his intention to end US governance over the Internet in 2014. Users should notice little difference, since the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers(ICANN) has managed the DNS system for more than a decade. However, the US government has retained the right to intervene on important decisions, through the National Telecommunications & Information Administration(NTIA). Starting in October, the US will cede its remaining authority on this matter to ICANN.
The DNS system is considered foundation to the functioning of the Internet, and some foreign countries have criticized America’s dominant influence over this important matter. Many in the tech industry have also called for America to end its dominant role in the governance of the Internet and leave it to a private entity. Numerous companies, including Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Dell, Facebook and CloudFlare sent a letter to Congress which supports a plan to turn over authority to ICANN.
Others have praised American stewardship and consider it a guarantee against the influence of oppressive regimes. After the announcement that the US government would cede its authority in October, Conservative news site Brietbart accused Obama of giving dictators “control of the Internet.” The site reiterates a statement from 2014 which states that American authority has protected freedom of speech and commerce across the Internet.
The NTIA has posted a Q&A concerning the transfer of authority to ICANN and one of the answers addresses concerns that a foreign government may have undue influence over ICANN. Under ICANN’s bylaws, no member of any government can serve as a voting member of the board. There is a Government Advisory Council(GAC), which contains representatives from most countries in the world. However, the board can overrule recommendations by the GAC.
Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee as well as Representative Sean Duffy have already sent a letter to the administration complaining about the “planned Internet giveaway.” Congress has passed legislation to prevent the transfer of authority to ICANN, but the restrictions expire on September 30. Congress will have to act fast if it wants to prevent the transfer from taking place. The conservative group TechFreedom has stated that private citizens can raise the issue in court if Congress fails to act. It argues that the DNS authority is a government asset which can’t be privatized without explicit approval from Congress.
Is the transfer of DNS authority to a private entity a good idea or not? Leave your comments below.