US to sacrifice control of internet domain-governing body in place of multilateral body

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 January, 2016, 11:11am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 February, 2016, 12:19pm

The organisation responsible for controlling internet domain names and addresses will be governed by a “multi-stakeholder” model later this year as the current steward, the United States, has lost credibility in the wake of the much-publicised leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The new model, which will take effect sometime between September and late December, will include the participation of governments, businesses and individuals, according to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

It said at a conference it hosted in Hong Kong on Friday that rising powers like China and Russia will not assume control of the body in the future because ICANN will treat governments, companies and academics as equal stakeholders.

China will not have a stronger say or more influence than other stakeholders, said Izumi Okutani, policy liaison officer of the Japan Network Information Centre (JPNIC), the country’s national internet registry. The official was not speaking on behalf of the Japanese government, but as an ICANN member.

“Even though China is a big country, it is only one stakeholder. It does not mean China will try to take more control,” said Lee Xiaodong, president of the China Internet Network information Center (CNNIC), the country’s top internet administrator.

However, more Chinese enterprises and experts will be able to contribute to the overall governance of the World Wide Web in the future, he added.

ICANN was also quick to dismiss speculation that it wants to become something akin to a United Nations for the internet.

“It is not like UN. The UN is a governmental entity but what we have is a decentralised mechanism,” said Theresa Swinehart, ICANN’s senior advisor to the president on strategy.

China’s potential interest in ICANN recently emerged when the organisation’s chief executive, Fadi Chehadé, accepted a formal advisory role at the World Internet Conference, the state-backed annual industry event held in Wuzhen, Jiangsu province.

“A truly inclusive global internet governance system will be impossible without the participation of China,” said Chehadé last December.

Beijing sees its internet space as part of the country’s sovereignty.

“We should respect each country’s right to choose its own approach in internet governance,” said Chinese President Xi Jinping during a keynote speech in Wuzhen last year.

The US still controls many influential world bodies including the Asian Development Bank(ADB) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

But China has challenged its global influence in recent years by setting up the Asian Infrastructure Bank (AIIB) and the political and military organisation known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

ICANN said it will hand a proposal to the US government on the transition plan for ICANN.

“If accepted, it will mark a historic point in the evolution of the internet,” said Swinehart.