By Robert Wenzel
The California non-profit corporation Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has contracted with the Department of Commerce to manage Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions, which include Domain Name System (DNS) root coordination, IP address responsibilities, and other functions. The transfer of these functions is scheduled to transition to ICANN on October 1, 2016 away from the Department of Commerce and the United States.
IANA functions something like a telephone directory. ICANN’s jobs, vis IANA, is to maintain the “root zone file” – the address book for top-level domains, like .com, .gov, and so on. When the .com registry needs another server, it requests that ICANN assign a new Internet Protocol (IP) address for that server. ICANN ensures that all the Internet standards are met and sends it on to the NTIA, which checks and authorizes the work, and then asks another Internet company, Verisign, to add the IP address to the root zone file.
The Commerce Department has pretty much kept hands off and conducted its IANA function as that of a bookkeeper: address requested, address logged. The fear is that things could change with ICANN in full control of IANA after October 1.
For example, suppose at some future date the ICANN authorities decide some web address is not politically correct and they refuse to list it, so much for that web address. That's serious stuff. That could lead to serious censorship.
No one is expecting such censorship to start immediately, though, there are ongoing battles over top-level domains such as .gay, .islam and .amazon already.
How all this will turn out no one really knows. ICANN is a global, political, bureaucracy that alone should be a long-term warning signal.
It has four advisory committees (made up of governments and international treaty organizations, the operators of the 13 root servers at the heart of the Internet, cyber-security experts, and average Internet users). The decisions are made by a 21-member board (15 members can actually vote).
Further, ICANN’s government advisory committee has 172 countries represented, but any one country can veto a recommendation to the board.
No doubt at some point in the future Hayek's dictum about politics, that the worst get on top, suggests that, eventually, someone will figure out how to game the system, for purposes yet unknown.
Whether the Commerce Department is less vulnerable to eventual manipulation and censorship than a global bureaucracy is an open question. One wonders why governments need to be involved with this at all. Telephone networks, numbers and directories developed, especially in the early days, without government regulation.
Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of EconomicPolicyJournal.com and Target Liberty. He also writes EPJ Daily Alert and is author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics and on LinkedIn.
(via US News. CSmonitor and SCmagazine)