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US government urged again to end net role

High-profile insiders add to pressure.

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

The United States government is under pressure again, this time from two high-profile insiders, to end its overseeing role on the internet and transistion its role to an international body.

A paper [pdf] co-written by the ex-government lawyer that originally drew up the contract between the US government and internet overseeing organisation ICANN in 1998, J. Beckwith Burr, and ICANN insider and member of the ICANN's President's Strategy Committee, Marilyn Cade, will be officially released later today at a public meeting called to discuss the organisation's future.

Entitled "Steps the US government (USG) can take to promote responsible, global, private sector management of the DNS", the paper is under no doubt that the USG has to internationalise its role as ultimate authority over the internet's domain name system and root zone file and explains that it hopes to provide a "concrete pathway" for doing just that.

It outlines four steps that it "urges" the USG to follow in arriving at that end-point.

  1. Make a statement stating that it will not use its authority to undermine any ICANN decisions, and that it will make VeriSign make changes to the A root in 14 days.
  2. Set up an international working group to take over its role which will comprise top-level government officials from across the world (not the existing GAC members, it suggests) plus ICANN officials. This group will be able to put a temporary hold on the implementation of any ICANN recommendations on the limited grounds that the change would led to "an unreasonable risk to the technical stability or security of the Internet".
  3. Publicly restate and provide assistance in getting back to the initial ICANN principles where private ownership is respected and ICANN's technical role is limited.
  4. Force some accountability onto ICANN by making it review its procedures and appeals mechanisms

The paper will be outlined at an all-day meeting today called by ICANN to discuss its future in time for a public meeting of the US government on 26 July, both preceding the end of ICANN's current contract with the USG on 30 September. That the paper is written by the official that originally wrote ICANN and the USG's contract and has been a close follower of ICANN ever since will lend extra weight to the paper's proposals. And co-author Marilyn Cade's appearance means that both US industry and ICANN's leadership are broadly behind the measures.

Experts that have so far reviewed the paper have been supportive and see it as a pragmatic exit for the USG, whose role has come under increased pressure in recent months, most recently just a week ago when a striking 87 percent of respondents to its own consultation urged the move to an international body as a matter of urgency.

The main area of dispute would appear to be in the formation of the international working group as outlined in the paper. EU civil servant and Net expert Patrick Vande Walle has already pointed out that the paper's suggestions over which countries should be included in the group are politically naive. But then the paper's strength comes from the fact that it is written by the US perspective and so is far more likely to meet with US government approval. The exact details can be thrashed out later.

ICANN's meeting schedule has now been posted, and there will be a live audio feed [Real Player] during the day (starting 7.20am US Pacific Time) for anyone interested in the topic of internet governance.®

Related links

The Burr/Cade paper [pdf]
ICANN meeting agenda
Live audio feed

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