Transfer of Control of DNS to ICANN
The shock and disbelief that had hit internet users with news that the USA is ceding one of the internet’s most famous units, DNS or Domain Naming System, to ICANN, is slowly subsiding with new revelations that ICANN has indeed been controlling the DNS for years. And that the change will barely be noticed.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, unknown to many internet users, is a non-profit organization based in the US. An affiliate called Public Technical Identifiers (PTI) had been formed to handle the handover technicalities, by the California Secretary of State.
This confirmation of the transfer DNS to ICANN brings to an end a twenty-year process involving the internet’s vital component, DNS.
DNS (Domain Naming System)
Primarily, DNS generates and pairs web addresses, like CNN.com with their source servers, making them easy to remember.
Without DNS, you can only reach a website by typing in a series of numbers, like “543.764.986” This is called an IP address.
It’s not clear why the US has always retained the ultimate control and say over DNS, but now it appears to be satisfied with the decision and has complete confidence for ICANN to take over the DNS control.
But there have been fears that relaxing control will only open doors for Russia and China to infiltrate an already vulnerable system.
Republicans are particularly incensed. In a letter released after the news broke out, they warned, “The proposal will significantly increase the power of foreign governments over the internet.”
ICANN, which operates under license from the US Department of Commerce, runs the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, (IANA), which is responsible for the DNS root, protocol resources, and the IP address.
In March 2014, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, (NTIA) which operates within the Department of Commerce, had signaled its intention to terminate its contract with ICANN by September 2015, hence passing control of the agency to a global-like authority.
The Commerce Department has explained that the brief delay in transition was occasioned by the need to give the internet multi-stakeholder groups, sufficient time to develop a transition plan, which would convince critics that Internet control was not being handed over to the governments.
The underlying fear was that some states are known to stifle online activity and heavy-handed censorship.
The new PTI, which is a fully fledged legal entity, is not mandated to perform any services in lieu of the IANA contract under NTIA, but will commence conducting those functions once the arrangement with ICANN has been finalized.
Created in 1998, by Jon Postel, ICANN has dominated the assigning of web addresses, and critics are divided whether fears by a foreign infiltration are justified.
Known to many as “god of the internet,” he pioneered many research breakthroughs and was at the forefront of systems that support networking today.
Mr. Postel singlehandedly drove the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, (IANA), but the final say in administration, was still under the iron grip if the NTIA. And it’s this iron grip that’s being relaxed come October 2016. The NTIA will no longer intervene in the Internet’s DNS.
It’s not like the NTIA had an ugly head; indeed it rarely interfered. A case in point is when it halted ICANN’s attempt to launch a luxury pornography domain ending, “. Xxx.” The authorities wanted ICANN to dump the idea, but it proceeded anyway.
Pundits are terming the move (DNS transfer) a “breath of fresh air” in that it marks a change from a cyberspace controlled by one country to one governed by many, giving others say to what has evolved as a global asset, embraced by many cultures.
It was easy for the US to retain control of DNS but it has sensed the need to heighten diplomacy around the world by relinquishing a primary tool that makes communication not only easy and enjoyable but also an avenue to promote world peace.
This gesture by the US could be a wake-up call to other countries with deplorable human rights records to relax their iron grip on their citizen’s freedom of expression and allow more tolerance.
Previously China and Russia wanted the DNS to be controlled by the United Nations. A treaty they collectively sponsored in 2012, was defeated by the US, Canada, the UK and Australia, when they cited human rights abuses that would arise if other countries were given access to the basics of the internet.
The good news is that the average web user will hardly notice the action by NTIA and will continue using the internet much like before. The transfer of control of DNS to ICANN will not affect the activities of the internet.