In the beginning when the Internet became, was the United States. The Internet is primarily the invention of the US “Enterprise” from the 1960s, and is the biggest technological boom the world has ever witnessed; which has never stooped nor stopped. The Internet has encouraged the biggest and most successful entrepreneurial ventures and has led to the strident transformation in how humans communicate.
Yes, the Internet is big.
But, contrary to popular belief, the Internet is not a centralised system. Even though the Internet is a network of networks made of computers and other internet devices (smartphones, PDAs and tablets) there is no central hub or a central governing body. But for facilitating its operation, primarily through the assigning name spaces and unique identifiers, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) function as the authority regulating the internet by mapping.
To put it simply, ICANN is the body which is responsible for assigning domain names (.com, .org, .net and the others) and IP addresses (192.168.1.1). The ICANN maintains contracts with Internet Domain name registrars who pay ICANN fees for each domain name registered. It is the ICANN which also assigns out the Generic TLDs (Top Level Domain Names) such as .club, .guru, .wine etc. ICANN is the address maker; it maps how computers (and other internet devices) connect with each other. Without the ICANN doing its function properly the Internet would not function.
And where does the United States come in? And what is its relationship with the ICANN?
Well, it’s complicated.
To start off with, the ICANN is headquartered in the United States and functions through a contract with the United States Government! Yes, surprisingly, the United States Government is involved in assigning domain names and IP addresses, operating the DNS (Domain Name System) Root system that holds information of internet’s Top Level Domain Names. The ultimate authority in DNS Root is the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency of the United States Department of Commerce!
However, the US Government has denied imposing influencing ICANN and says that it is an organisation independent of Government involvement. But, the fact that the NTIA holds authority over the DNS Root Zone also invites worries.
And especially after Snowden and NSA espionage, Governments across the globe have raised concern over the future of Internet Governance and the need for a revised governance plans. To put it simply; end US hegemony.
How did the US Government actually come into the picture?
The involvement of the United States government was present even before the invention of the internet. As a matter of fact, the internet itself is an offshoot of the US Military project the ARPANET.
What is the Netmundial?
The Netmundial refers to the Global multistakeholder meeting on the Future of Internet Governance to be held in São Paulo, Brazil this month. The meeting would address two key issues: Internet Governance Principles and the Future of Internet Governance. The meeting would also address the need for formulating principles on internet surveillance and the possibility of forming an international cyber weapons treaty.
The meeting proposes to establish the internet as
“a globally coherent, interconnected, stable, unfragmented, scalable and accessible network-of-networks, based on a common set of unique identifiers and that allows the free flow of information.”
The meeting would be attended by representatives of civil society, private sector, academia and technical community and would be hosted by the High-Level Multistakeholder Committee, composed of ministerial representatives of 12 countries, including India and the United States and 12 members of the multistakeholder international community including representatives of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)) and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) of the United Nations, and the European Commission. More information on the meeting can be found here.
The outcome of the meeting, commented “the World Cup of Internet Governance” is highly anticipated and looked forward by the Internet community. The meeting also has come out with a Draft Outcome Document, after garnering suggestions and inputs from the Internet Community. The document can be viewed and commented on here.
At the same time, it is intriguing to note the fact that Russia and China are not part of the High-Level Multi stake holder Committee and also the participation and role played by corporate internet stakeholders such as Google, Social Media sites are also vague.
Well, it’s high time the world community do something on the issue of Internet Governance and we look forward to NetMunidal. Yes, together we can, but can ICANN?
Basil Ajith is a lawyer, a former student of the Kerala Law Academy Law College and currently working as General Manager (Operations) at the legal academic services firm Law Pundits LLP. His primary areas of interest are International Law, Internet Law and Intellectual Property Law. He runs a blog-site on international law named International Law Made Easy. Apart from law he has varied interests including music, writing, arts, technology and the Bible.