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US to cede control of ICANN?

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The US government has reportedly agreed to cede control over ICANN once its current pact with the internet oversight body expires next week.

ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is a California-based non-profit that oversees the internet's address system. It currently operates under the auspices of the Joint Project Agreement with the US government, due to end September 30, 2009.

The Economist reports a new "affirmations of commitments" has been struck in place of the JPA that gives ICANN autonomy to manage its own affairs. The agreement allegedly extends indefinitely and is set to go into effect the day before the JPA expires.

The new deal also reportedly sets up "oversight panels" composed of representatives of foreign governments, which will conduct regular reviews of ICANN in four areas: competition among generic domains (.com, .net. .org, etc); the handling of data on registrants; network security and transparency; and accountability to public interests. The US will only retain a permanent seat in the latter, The Economist reports.

The panels would reportedly have no real authority over ICANN, however, and failing to follow their recommendations bears no penalties. It's not clear by the report which governments would be represented on the panels or how the countries being represented would be determined.

ICANN would also still require permission before making any major changes to internet operations under a separate agreement with the US government that expires in 2011.

When asked for comment, both ICANN and the US agency overseeing ICANN said negotiations are still ongoing and refused to confirm or deny the report.

US influence over ICANN has been a strong point of contention for many other countries. This June, the EU called on the US to relinquish control of ICANN when its contract expires in favor of "multilateral accountability." ®

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