There have been so many rumors regarding the upcoming changeover of ICANN out of the central oversight of the U.S government in favor of the organization to work independently. This issue has become so much publicized thanks to the effort of some politicians. However, the truth remains that some facts about this issue have been distorted.
ICANN issue is a complex one that needs better understanding. Some of the rumors in the public domain are misleading or totally untrue. But ICANN’s change of stewardship is very important and needs to be understood very well. This is the main reason we put together a simple explanation on what is actually happening and how it is going to affect the internet as a whole.
What is ICANN?
I know most people do not understand what ICANN is and their role in internet governance. ICANN which are the abbreviations for Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is a non-profit organization with the role of overseeing IP address space allocation, root server system management, domain name system management and protocol parameter assignment functions. In short, they are responsible for overseeing the daily functions of naming and numbering system needed for the internet to work.
ICANN is a multi-stakeholder organization having some of the greatest minds in technology, business, academic field, technology and public interest. Most of these people are volunteers who applied or have been nominated for a role in the organization and also represent internet users from different parts of the world.
What will its Stewardship transition do?
It is very important that you understand that this transition is the final step of a long process overseen by the U.S department of Commerce to privatize the coordination and management of the domain name system. According to the ICCANN fact sheet, this process has taken almost two decades and the facts further prove that the transition has been supported by all U.S. presidential administrators since the year 1998.
For the past many years, ICANN has been under delegate from the Commerce Department. In March 2014, a public announcement was made declaring that a plan has been launched to change ICANN into an independent organization in two years time. In case this plan goes through, the contract between ICANN and the United States government will expire on October 2016. This will mean that the government’s role in overseeing the organization will come to an end. ICANN on the other end will continue to operate its functions but now as an independent body.
Does this mean The United Nations: Russia etc will be able to control the internet?
The initial perception was that because the ICANN used to report to the U.S government that the United States controlled it. This is absolutely not true. It is a wrong perception considering the fact that ICANN is a multi-stakeholder organization. ICANN has been and will continue to be run by several stakeholders from different countries all of who have the mission of overseeing the domain naming g and addressing system.
According to PolitiFact, there are up to 171 representatives from different countries on the organization Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) who advices ICANN’s 20 member board. Well, we can agree this includes representatives from countries like China, Russia and the UK. However, it is important to note that no one country can influence the decisions made at ICANN. Any recommendations made have to be unanimous. Further note that even if one country objects a particular recommendation, then it will not go through. Although, I am reminded that information and suggestions can be passed on the board without any consensus.
Will this transition cause widespread internet censorship?
The only answer to this is NO. Just the other day, Senator Tom Cruz protested the transition but according to ICANN’s response, the organization does not have the ability to regulate internet content. ICANN is only a technical administrator.
Finally, the fact still remains that there are countries such as Russia and China who have already imposed censorship within their own boarders. This is unlikely to change whether or not ICANN remains under the United States authority. The transition does not mean that the organization will fall under different regime. In fact, the prominence of internet censorship is highly unlikely to be affected by this transition.
Where can I find more information?
If you’d like to learn more about the ICANN stewardship transition, visit ICANN’s website.