Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : October 1st 2016 Contents A20
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Saturday, October 1, 2016
Today, the US government plans to
cede control of some of the Internet s
core systems---namely, the directories
that help web browsers and apps know
where to find the latest weather, maps
and Facebook musings.
Will you even notice? Probably not,
although the subject has become a hot
political issue for some conservatives.
Here s a look at the systems in question
and what s at stake for Internet users.
The US government
controls the Internet?
No single government, business,
organisation or individual controls all
the computers and pipelines making
up the Internet. But the network relies
on an addressing system called the
domain name system, or DNS, which
includes directories that help route data
like email and web requests where it
needs to go. And someone needs to
run the DNS.
Control over the DNS mostly
amounts to deciding what gets included
in those directories. For instance, can
a Google critic register google-sucks.org,
or does Google get first dibs? What
about creating a domain name suffix
just for porn sites? It has nothing to
do, though, with what websites publish.
All it does is make sure your browser
can find those sites.
Does the US run that system?
Since 1998, an organisation called
the Internet Corporation for Assigned
Names and Numbers has overseen the
directories, mostly by setting rules and
creating mechanisms for settling dis-
putes. But ICANN also has a boss at
the US Commerce Department.
It s a historical arrangement stem-
ming from US funding for the internet s
early development. The domain name
system we re familiar with dates back
to 1984, long before Pokemon Go or
even Amazon.com came along.
Why do people care
about the transfer?
The US has been in charge of the
DNS system for more than three
decades. Plans to privatise control of
these functions by transferring them
to a nonprofit oversight organisation
have been in the works since the late
As today s transfer date approached,
some Republicans in Congress raised
late objections, terming it a "giveaway"
to the rest of the world. But they failed
to block the move in a spending bill to
keep the government operating.
Late Wednesday, the attorneys gen-
eral from Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma
and Nevada---all Republicans---filed a
federal lawsuit to block the transfer
because of worries it might affect gov-
ernment websites ending in .gov.
Why the US is backing away
ICANN has taken its share of com-
plaints over the years, often for being
slow to adapt as the internet grew. One
common charge: It took too long to
permit domain names in languages
other than English. Many countries
believe that as long as the US retains
oversight---even if it leaves day-to-day
management to ICANN---the Internet
cannot be truly international.
Some governments have sought to
transfer control to a UN agency, the
Union. But critics objected to letting
authoritarian regimes like Iran and
China get equal votes on matters affect-
Instead, the US government insisted
that businesses, academics and other
parties also get seats at the table.
ICANN already had such a multi-party
approach. The US agreed in June to
relinquish control to ICANN after the
organisation created additional mech-
anisms to resolve disputes.
Will anything change for users?
Not much. The directories themselves
aren t changing, and people don t inter-
act directly with domain names as often
in the era of Google searches, phone
apps and Facebook links. In fact, few
people would even know about the
transition were it not for the noise from
Republicans raise alarm
Republican critics claim that the
transition would give countries like
Russian and China the ability to control
online speech---something supporters
of the transition plan deny given the
multi-party approach. Sen Ted Cruz
of Texas is among those who tried to
block the transition as part of a short-
term spending bill to keep the govern-
ment running past Friday.
Donald Trump also came out in sup-
port of Cruz, his one-time rival for the
GOP presidential nomination. Ironically,
those wanting the US to maintain its
oversight role includes a group called
Americans for Limited Government.
Their efforts failed, though, as budget
negotiators left out the transition ban.
A last-ditch lawsuit
Four state attorneys general asked a
federal court in Galveston, Texas, to
block the move. Commerce and ICANN
have delegated control of the .gov suffix
to the US General Services Adminis-
tration. GSA handles day-to-day man-
agement of which government websites
can use the suffix. Though the lawsuit
claims that GSA decisions are submitted
to ICANN for approval, that isn t the
case. ICANN does have trademark and
other policies governing sites using par-
ticular suffixes, but they cover suffixes
available to anyone. The .gov suffix is
restricted to government agencies in
The lawsuit also claims that ICANN
could delete .gov entirely from the
directories or delegate management of
.gov websites to someone else. That s
possible, but highly unlikely, and the
attorneys general offer no evidence that
ICANN would do either. (AP)
What's at stake as US
cedes Internet control
People work on a job search on a computer at an office in Atlanta. Today, the US government will cede control
of some of the Internet's core systems, namely, the directories that help web browsers and apps know where
to find the latest weather, maps and Facebook musings. AP PHOTO
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