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Debate continues over Internet governance ownership

Numerous pundits and politicians continue to debate over who should control Internet governance, as the U.S. Commerce Department plans to cede control over one of the major regulatory bodies.

The Internet is a network that was initially launched in the United States, and has since proliferated around the world. Users from all corners of the globe can log on and access a wealth of content, making cyberspace one of the most mobilizing technological developments the world has ever seen. However, the content that one can access differs from country to country.

While some parts of the world have a relatively unregulated Internet, others are heavily controlled. In China, for instance, websites like Facebook and the New York Times are inaccessible, while in Iran social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter are blocked. Unfortunately, it seems as though more and more governments are looking to impose these controls over the Internet activity. The Turkish prime minister recently attempted to ban Twitter within the country, though fortunately, a constructional court rules that this was not allowed.

Yielding ICANN control
These practices are among the major reasons that many are growing concerned about the Commerce Department yielding control over ICANN. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is the nonprofit organization that is responsible for overseeing the the Internet's Domain Name System, which is the database that contains the top-level domain names throughout the world. Basically, the organization is responsible for regulating global Internet traffic through this database, making it a key player when it comes to Internet governance.

At the moment, the U.S. contract with ICANN is set to expire in September 2015, after which the Commerce Department plans to turn oversight to a global multistakeholder group. The idea is that there would be more global control over the Internet to reflect the nature of today's Internet.

However, many critics have mixed opinions about this move, especially because of the way that online freedom has deteriorated with under some of the world's largest governments like China and Russia.

Critics speak out
The Wall Street Journal recently published an op-ed by Julius Genachowsli and Gordon M. Goldstein which noted that this move comes at a time when Internet freedom is both extremely important and under threat.

The authors noted that if the U.S. is to cede control over ICANN, it needs to be able to guarantee that certain principles will not be violated. First, they contend that the group that comes to control ICANN cannot be a government entity, rather, one that is based in the private sector and civil society so that online activity remains decentralized.

Another provision they call for is that there should be no intergovernmental control over the Internet, meaning that the United Nations needs to be excluded from the project, and the oversight group needs to be protected from government interference.

Finally, the transfer needs to be able to guarantee reliability, stability and resilience, that is in compliance with current U.S. policies. This includes subjecting the the new authority to stress tests to prepare for potential vulnerabilities. While calls for the U.S. to cede control have grown louder since Edward Snowden leaks, the op-ed authors noted hat the actions of the National Security Administration are not related to U.S. oversight of ICANN.

ICANN chief defends move
Reuters reported that the head of ICANN, Fadi Chehade, said that the change in governance will not harm Internet freedom. He specifically addressed the concerns that Russia and China would be controlled.

"Our commitment to the multi-stakeholder model is not so much for the few who do not believe in it, it should be to the great middle mass that would like to see us stand by it and they will stand with us. This is the bet we need to make," he said, according to the news source.

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