ICANN Makes Plea for Independence

Gretchen Gallen
MARINA DEL REY, Calif – In response to a report submitted on Aug. 15 by the United Nations’ Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG), ICANN issued a strong written response in favor of its continued independence from the U.S. Government and its proven efforts to increase global participation in the Internet’s governance – an issue that for the last year has dogged ICANN in the eyes of the international community.

WGIG’s 24-page document was published in preparation for the World Summit on the Information Society slated for November in Tunisia. The report outlined reasons why ICANN should be reformed and handed over to an international board.

Among the many points in favor of dissolving ICANN, WGIG outlined many policy issues that fall under the definition of Internet governance and offered four alternative proposals for a future Internet governance regime, including the creation of a World ICANN or WICANN.

Critics including U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan have been outspoken on the issue of ICANN and the United States’ influence over the Internet and have urged other international leaders to push for more balanced control of the Internet.

But outside of WGIG’s report, specific actions toward shifting the balance of power when it comes to Internet control have so far only manifested as suggestions and have fallen short of becoming reality.

While ICANN is generally known as the overseer of domain name information in root zone files and for changing and recording name and IP address database information, its response to WGIG’s proposal was that it maintains only a limited role in Internet governance and instead has maintained a steady and reliable record of providing “smooth administration of the Internet,” and in no way has acted as a dominant force in decisions affecting the Internet or its future.

ICANN was appointed by the Commerce Department to administer the domain name system in 1998. Its Memorandum of Understanding with Commerce expires in June 2006. Several months ago, Commerce released a memo stating that it intended to “maintain its historic role in authorizing changes and modifications to the authoritative root zone file” after its current agreement with ICANN expires.

Many saw the memo as a challenge to ICANN, but ICANN President Paul Twomey said he instead read the memo as a clear sign to the U.N. that the United States has no intention of forfeiting its oversight of the Internet to any international powers.

“There is no indication as I can see that there is going to be any sort of support for a binding international treaty that is going to cover all countries of the world and bind all of the companies involved with the Internet through that treaty,” Twomey said. “I just don’t see it happening.”

Other issues addressed by WGIG and refuted by ICANN included WGIG’s claim that new global top-level domains, such as .jobs for the human resources industry, have a strong impact on the equitable distribution of international resources, and the ongoing policy debate over privacy protections for the WHOIS database of domain name registrants, for which ICANN has not yet been able to broker a consensus policy between Internet users, law enforcement and business groups who want accurate registrant information publicly available.