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2005: The year the US government undermined the internet

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2005 in review 2005 will be forever seen as the year in which the US government managed to keep unilateral control of the internet, despite widespread opposition by the rest of the world.

However, while this very public spat went on, everyone failed to notice a related change that will have far greater implications for everyday internet users and for the internet itself. That change will see greater state-controlled censorship on the internet, reduce people's ability to use the internet to communicate freely, and leave expansion of the internet in the hands of the people least capable of doing the job.

It is also another example of where the US government's control has - in real, verifiable terms - had a direct, unchecked impact on the internet, despite constant assurances that it takes only a benevolent and passive role. And it has come as a result of the US administration's hugely controversial decision to invade Iraq.

Redelegation

We are talking about the ever-troublesome redelegation process for country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) - like .uk for the United Kingdom, .fr for France and .de for Germany.

There are currently 246 ccTLDs in existence (although there should really only be 240), and every year, there are arguments over who should be entitled to run them. Mostly ownership of the domains is stable but in recent years African governments have been keen to take more of a role in running their country's Internet, causing a glut.

This year, 2005, there have been seven redelegations: The Falkland Islands (.fk); Hong Kong (.hk); Iraq (.iq); Kazakhstan (.kz); South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands (.gs); Timor-Leste (.tl); and Tokelau (.tk).

Of these, three were agreed to before July and are of little consequence, being no more than agreed changes in owner or country circumstances.

However, on 28 July 2005 at a special board meeting of internet overseeing organisation ICANN, ownership of both Iraq (.iq) and Kazakhstan (.kz) was changed in a way that soon after saw a change in ownership for South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands (.gs) and Tokelau (.tk).

At that meeting, consciously and for the first time, ICANN used a US government-provided reason to turn over Kazakhstan's internet ownership to a government owned and run association without requiring consent from the existing owners. The previous owners, KazNIC, had been created from the country's Internet community.

ICANN then immediately used that "precedent" to hand ownership of Iraq's internet over to another government-run body, without accounting for any objections that the existing owners might have.

Previously it had always been the case that ICANN would take no action (and only ICANN, through IANA, can actually change ownership of a ccTLD) unless both sides were in complete agreement. Now, ICANN had set itself up as the de facto world authority on who should run different parts of the Internet.

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