Hyderabad hosted the 57th meet of ICANN recently where the issues of independence and transparency in operations of the internet was discussed. In September, the US relinquished its control of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and transferred it to the ICANN, in what appears to be an ‘unprecedented surrender of government control’.
Let us look at few of the issues attached with it.
What is the ICANN?
The Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a not-for-profit organization that was set up in 1998 to oversee the administration of domain names. It coordinates and ensures smooth and secure functioning of the cybernetic framework.
ICANN | Functions
ICANN oversees the interconnected network of Domain Names, Host Names, IP addresses and websites emerging on a daily basis. It also ensures that computers across the internet can find one another through defined unique pathways and identifiers (in short the role of a moderator of the online world).
- Approval of companies that can become accredited registrars for domain names.
- Decision making regarding the addition of new Top Level Domains (TLDs) to the Root system.
- Coordinating technical parameters to maintain universal connectivity.
- Creating a Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) for competing domain names.
- It is responsible for coordinating the maintenance and methodologies of several databases, with unique identifiers, related to the namespaces of the Internet – and thereby, ensuring the network’s stable and secure operation.
- ICANN is governed by an internationally diverse Board of Directors overseeing the policy development process. ICANN’s President directs an international staff, working from three continents, who ensure that ICANN meets its operational commitment to the Internet community.
ICANN | Issues and limitations
- The ICANN functions as a not-for-profit group with a license from the US Department of Commerce. Given the inescapable conundrum of its hierarchical structure, the ICANN has frequently been criticised for an alleged lack of accountability and opaque decision making.
- The ICANN claims that it aims to share control between a wide range of interests including technical experts, academics, representatives of civil society and governments without giving control to any of them”. However, this claim is yet to be fulfilled given the nascent state of the transfer and the unpredictability of the outcome.
- The lack of diversity in its theorising body is also a major cause for concern. As a body aiming to represent individual stakeholders across the world or the “Global internet consumer”, the predominance of North American representation and first world academic rhetoric within the policy making body is suspicious to say the least.
- The bureaucratic structure of the body is another major cause for concern among theorists. As the Economist states, “ICANN’s “multi-stakeholderism”, which means that everybody has some say, sounds like a bureaucratic nightmare. Yet it may be the best hope for finding common solutions to the global problems created by the internet.”
- Anti-western grouping has often criticized the United States for not relinquishing its control over the internet. The charge made against them is that internet was a brainchild of US Defence Department during the second world war, which raises the eyebrows of the world regarding the secure and impartial use of cyber space. The revelations of PRISM programme of the NSA of the United State has pushed the concerns even high.
57th ICANN, Hyderabad
As an emerging global power with an ever increasing populace, the database of internet users in India is constantly on the rise. Therefore, India has a larger role to play in global governance of the Internet and this is evinced by its inclusion in the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts (UN GGE) as well as the recently concluded 57th meeting of the ICANN in Hyderabad.
- This meeting was the first meeting post the IANA transition and was watched with interest. The discussion examined the immediate effects of the transition, and possible hurdles that might emerge in the future.
- The meeting in Hyderabad provided a tremendous platform for raising issues and concerns as well as seeking partnerships across borders to create an inclusive and access equal Cyberspace.
- ICANN communicated to the participants that it works freely and impartially and the United States do not exercise more control than any other member of the grouping. The relinquishing of its power by the US to Los Angeles-based ICANN (as agreed upon in 2014) marks a transition from an internet effectively governed by one nation to a multi-stakeholder governed internet.
ICANN is largely independent of national governments. The board is elected by outside organizations composed of businesses, non-profits, and Internet users from around the world. And those organizations can recall individual board members, or the entire board. While the ICANN has addressed some of these claims and issues, the path ahead remains complicated. As Internet has become a fundamental part of the daily life, ‘a properly global solution for what has become a global asset’ is the need of the hour.