Thousands of political representatives, business lobbyists, and technical experts from around the world have congregated in London to discuss the future of the internet. At issue is international regulation of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and the internet access it channels.
In conjunction with the U.S. government, ICANN has long-served as the non-profit gatekeeper of the cyber world, maintaining the world’s central DNS servers (domain name services) that assign the internet addresses of all website. In March, the Department of Commerce announced the U.S. would relinquish control of ICANN by September 2015.
The announcement has triggered a sort of cyber constitutional convention, sparking debate over an international regulatory body to administer ICANN. This week’s convention in London marks the beginning of these discussions.
The leader of the French delegation, Axelle Lemaire, has led the charge for a general governing assembly. According to Lemaire, the lack of international supervision has fostered an ICANN that is “totally opaque” and without “transparency at all in the process.”
In an interview with the Financial Times on Sunday, Lemaire outlined blueprints for international control of ICANN according to a “one country, one vote” principle.
Ed Vaizey, the U.K. minister of communication, believes Lemaire’s plans would usher in a “bureaucratic World Wide Web of red tape.”
Vaizey pointed to ICANN’s earlier success as reason to prefer a hands-off approach. “In less than 20 years, the Internet has revolutionized the way the world works, talks and studies,” he noted “and this explosive growth has not been managed by governments.”
Brett Schaefer, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation, has also rejected the French proposal. He explains that “all users of the internet that value privacy and freedom should be opposed to such efforts.”
Any attempt to globalize control of ICANN according to a “one country, one vote” principle would pose a threat to fundamental freedoms of expression. Schaefer maintains that this international control “would invite authoritarian regimes, hostile to free expression and representative government, to use that forum to promote and universalize their repressive policies.”
Schaefer notes also that the French proposal would violate both the Department of Commerce’s transfer conditions and ICANN’s charter.