The United States government in March proposed a handing over of the key oversight role it holds in global internet governance — a role that currently grants it ultimate authority over many critical parts of internet function. The proposition initially raised some concerns about the transition of this role, including the possibility that authoritarian regimes could take control of the internet and implement widespread censorship.
This is just one issue to be addressed at the 2014 Internet Governance Forum USA, taking place at George Washington University in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, July 16. Leaders from the internet multistakeholder community will come together with activists, scholars and members of government, to discuss topics such as where human rights fit into internet governance, net neutrality and "increasing the accountability of ICANN" — the organization this entire system of governance functions around.
Though the White House has said it is committed to handing authority over to the multistakeholder community, Washington, DC has been "abuzz" with several congressional hearings taking place with the House Energy and Commerce Committee as well as the Judiciary Committee, and discussions and briefings with the Hudson Institute as well as NetCaucus. Three bills have so far also been introduced.
To understand the implications of the US stepping out of its authoritative role, it is first critical to know what the United States governmnet's function in internet oversight even is.
In its current state, the system of internet governance is a bit of a tangled web of organizations and divisions, which together have created a rather successful oversight network. At its center, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) controls the global Domain Name System (DNS), or the internet “phone book.” The US is the most important player in ICANN, although over 100 governments, as well as NGOs and industry representatives, also have input.
Although the US is one of just a few countries where the internet is completely “free,” meaning without censorship, according to Freedom House’s 2013 global report, some say there is reason for hope yet.
According to Phil Corwin, J.D., founder of Virtualaw, LLC, a public policy consultancy in Washington, DC, “something better than what we have [now]” could soon replace the US-backed internet governance system.