Last week the directors of all the major Internet organizations including: ICANN, the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Architecture Board, the World Wide Web Consortium, the Internet Society, and all five of the regional Internet address registries met in Montevideo, Uruguay and essentially turned their backs on the US government. These organizations, tasked with development and administration of internet standards and resources are initiating a sharp break away from three decades of US hegemony in key matters of internet governance.
The Montevideo Statement on the Future of Internet Cooperation issued by the conference calls for the “acceleration of the globalization” of the functions carried out by ICANN and IANA. The move is being seen as a stern rejection of the current arrangement in which the day-to-day operations of the Internet’s underlying infrastructure have been supervised by the US Department of Commerce since their inception.
This kind of tectonic shift in the governance of the internet is unprecedented and may be just the beginning, as the very next day, the President and CEO of ICANN, Mr. Fadi Chehadi, met with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, a long outspoken critic of the United States’ internet dominance in general, and electronic spying programs in particular.
According to the official statement of the Brazilian government that was issued after the meeting, Mr. Chehadi asked: “the president [of Brazil] to elevate her leadership to a new level, to ensure that we can all get together around a new model of governance in which all are equal.” The statement goes on to call for an internet governance summit to be held in April of 2014 in Rio de Janeiro which seems to cement a path toward internet governance that will occur without the direct oversight of the US government. A change that many believe was at least in part precipitated by facts uncovered by Eric Snowden regarding the NSA Prism surveillance protocols and examples of US government interests using the internet to spy directly on the email or other communications of sovereign nations and their leaders.
This potential loss of US control, with no replacement oversight authority in place to take on the responsibility is an uncertain development. Writing for the Internet Governance Project, Milton Mueller, a Syracuse University professor, stated: “The proper substitute for unilateral Commerce Department oversight, we argued, was not multilateral “political oversight” but an international agreement articulating clear rules regarding what ICANN can and cannot do, an agreement that explicitly protects freedom of expression and other individual rights and liberal Internet governance principles.” In the past, there was but one master and while the existing setup certainly had it’s drawbacks, its replacement will likely be chaotic as various newly-empowered and disparate political interests jockey their agendas.
Domain names, TLDs, IP protocols, the DNS system and just about every other meaningful aspect of the nuts and bolts technologies the internet is built upon may all soon be governed in a completely different way.
There has also been no official word from the United States government or the commerce department about this issue, which may be at least in part the result of a continuing government shutdown which has caused all but essential government employees to be furloughed why vital matters of importance like this one appear to simply be falling through the cracks.
NationalNet will continue to monitor these changes closely and will report any proactive steps our clients can take to solidify their own position on the world wide web as governments and quasi-governmental groups continue to bicker over the technology, privacy and protocols that underlie a network our entire world now relies on for essential needs on a daily basis.