Sat, Oct 11, 2014 - Page 7 News List

States, corporations vie for reins of the Internet

AFP, SAN FRANCISCO

As the US steps back from overseeing the group entrusted to essentially run the Internet, states and corporations are grabbing for the reins.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has gone from being behind the scenes tending to the task of managing Web site addresses to being center stage in a play for power on the Internet.

“Governments want to exert control over the sweeping trans-national power of the Internet that is affecting their policies, politics, social fabric and/or their economic conditions,” ICANN chief executive Fadi Chehade told reporters just days before the group gathers in Los Angeles beginning tomorrow to tackle an array of hot issues.

“The other groups are large corporations concerned about security issues,” he added, while discussing forces striving for influence over the organization. “Therefore, they are stepping in with force to figure out how to reduce potential harm to customers and to their businesses.”

Governance of the Internet is expected to be a high-profile topic at the ICANN 51 meeting that is to continue through Thursday in Los Angeles.

The World Economic Forum recently unveiled a project aimed at connecting governments, businesses, academia, technicians and civil society worldwide to brainstorm the best ways to govern the Internet.

The forum launched its NETmundial Initiative in a bid to build on the outcome of a large conference in Brazil in April that called for a transparent, “multiple stakeholder” approach to running the Web.

“Anyone who wants to come in and build a coalition of stakeholders and address issues, more power to them,” Chehade said of the crowd-sourcing move.

“The way we put it in ICANN is ‘Getting the free will of the people to bottom-up coalesce, work together and come up with solutions,’” he added.

Participants at the conference in Brazil balked at a push by some nations, including China and Russia, for governments to move into a leading role in overseeing the Internet, amid fears of the impact this could have on the unity of the Web and on online dissent and freedom of expression.

Chehade told reporters that the forum would be involved in a more action-oriented initiative to be announced shortly.

“We don’t need more dialogue; we need more solutions,” Chehade said.

The ICANN 51 agenda provided to a reporter includes tackling whether identities of those running Web sites should be public or whether privacy should be safeguarded and operators’ true names revealed only with court orders.

ICANN runs a WHOIS.icann.org service where contact information can be found regarding registered operators of specific Web sites, but not necessarily people behind business names.

“It was designed by engineers as a technical tool to contact servers,” Chehade said of WHOIS.

“Now, it is becoming a directory of a billion Web sites; it was not designed for that,” he added.

ICANN has mapped a path to evolve WHOIS into a true global Web site directory, complete with privacy safeguards for Web site operators, according to the chief executive.

Chehade felt that ICANN has a good grip on the technical challenges it faces, but “We have some holes” in non-technical issues such as privacy, cybersecurity, intellectual property rights, taxation and others.

“All these non-technical issues that occur in the space of the use of the Internet, rather than the system that runs the Internet, require global frameworks of cooperation,” Chehade said. “In general, these solutions are not yet forthcoming.”

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