U.S. to Continue Supremacy Over ICANN

Michael Hayes
WASHINGTON — Critics of a U.S.-controlled ICANN will have to wait several more years before the organization that governs the Internet becomes fully independent. The U.S. Commerce Department said Wednesday that it would continue its authority over ICANN for the immediate future.

With a Sept. 30 deadline to renew authority of ICANN or cede control of the organization, John Kneuer, an acting assistant secretary of Commerce, said his department would retain control for between one and three years.

Kneuer confirmed the Commerce decision after a Senate Commerce Committee hearing.

"We're in discussions on amending and extending it, and some time between now and Sept. 30, I expect us to do that," Kneuer said.

The existing three-year agreement, which had been set to expire at the end of the month, gave the U.S. government control over the popular top-level domain .com, as well as country-specific TLDs.

Kneuer stressed that the U.S. was committed to an independent ICANN in the long-term, but for now, he said, issues of accountability and transparency had to be resolved.

David McGuire of the Center for Democracy and Technology said that letting ICANN go too early wouldn’t necessarily mean that the organization would be independent, given the possibility that it could fall under United Nations control.

"What we ultimately would love to see would be a completely non-governmental, bottoms-up management body," McGuire said. "At this point, that's just not something we think is necessarily even viable."

Many critics of a U.S.-backed ICANN blame the Commerce Department for the death of .XXX, the proposed TLD for adult entertainment sites.

But with the controversy of .XXX now a distant memory, another potential battle looms between a less than autonomous ICANN and the U.S. government.

ICANN has expressed an interest in changing the Whois requirements to restrict access, which it says would protect the privacy of website operators.

Under current policy, website operators must submit contact information properly identifying the site owner to the Whois database.

The Federal Trade Commission has gone on record saying that it needs access to that information to purse online crime, including spam, spyware and identity theft.

"The future of ICANN is really on the line here," Federal Trade Commissioner Jon Leibowitz said. "For the past decade we have used Whois databases in virtually all of our Internet investigations. It is often one of the first tools we use to identify wrongdoers.”