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US government completes Internet 'privatisation'

According to the US Commerce Department the move - to hand over complete control of the Internet’s underpinnings to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) - marks the final phase of the ‘privatization’ of the domain name system to the multi-stakeholder model that has embedded itself over the past 20 years or so - a model under which different aspects of the Internet and the World Wide Web’s operation are overseen and managed by different stakeholder groups.

These include Icann itself, the Internet Society, the World Wide Web Consortium and the Internet Engineering Taskforce, many of whose active members participate on a voluntary basis but may also be ‘sponsored’ by their companies to attend meetings and spend time on documents and proposals.

Much is being made of the Snowden revelations being the final spur to US government action. But while the activities of the NSA have provided a rallying point for those who want the US government to further loosen its grip, there’s also no doubt that the ‘privatisation’ has been under way for some time and that, eventually, the US government was more than happy to get itself out of the way.

The real wake-up call on this was probably the ITU’s 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) where there was a concerted attempt by a majority bloc of participating states to bring the Internet under some sort of joint sovereign control (despite assurances to the contrary). That attempt was vetoed but all agree that the threat would be back and more dangerous next time.

The worry, of course, is that the Internet’s cherished freedom of speech and communication would be under threat with any move to bring it under political control - given the sorts of totalitarian states prominent in that debate.

If the US cedes complete (or at least overt) control over the Internet to the stakeholder groups, (so the theory goes) it makes it less possible for other states to muscle in since they can’t argue that they deserve a share of political oversight (since there is no political oversight role to share).

For it’s part ICANN has welcomes the end of the US oversight role, but says it expects there will be no immediate impact for Internet users.

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