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Two years ago, the United States government, acting through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced its intention to sever the last contractual control it had over the administration of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (also known as the IANA function) and allow that function, in the future, to be performed by a non-profit company, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (a/k/a ICANN). To simplify greatly, the IANA function is the part of the internet system that defines domain names and addresses -- it is what distinguishes in the end between lawfareblog.com (this web site) and lawfare.com (a different site owned by someone else).
At the time many observers, including me, viewed the announcement as problematic. Giving control of the naming function to an unaccountable multi-stakeholder organization rised both potential reductions in interent freedom (if, say, the new group were to eliminate the .il domain for Israel) or potentially catastrophic monopolistic practices (if the domain were now sold at exorbitant prices). My colleague, Jack Goldsmith, looked at the matter from a different perspective and had his own set of thoughts and concerns. The key, everyone (including the NTIA) agreed was in the development of a strong accountability system to replace the soft control of US government contractual oversight. At an early House Judiciary Committee hearing Representative Nadler (D-NY) rightly, I think, characterized the NTIA's announcement as an RFP for an accountability system. The success or failure of the proposed transition would rest on what the ultimate proposal was.
Well now, two years later, we have the accountability proposal. Twenty eight members and 203 participants (including me) have worked through 209 meetings and 12,430+ emails over 404 hours to create a proposal. The text of the proposal is 50 pages long and has 15 annexes and 11 appendixes of explanation totalling more than 340 pages overall. It is, in short, the product of a committee.
Having participated in the process for the last two years, I was asked (along with a Heritage colleague of mine Brett Schaeffer) to submit a statement for the record reflecting my views on the proposal. A link to the entirety of that statement is here, and the document is also in Scribd below.
But here is the bottom line: The accountability proposal has much to recommend it, though it adds, I fear, too much power for governments. More problmatically, the potential for uncertain adverse results from the tranistion is great. The international community has not demonstrated a sufficient maturity of processes to withstand the buffeting winds of political challenge that face it. "It would be prudent to allow ICANN to operate under the new structure for a period of time to verify that unforeseen complications and problems do not arise while retaining the ability to reassert the historical NTIA relationship if unforeseen complications arise."