US to give up control of top-level DNS

By John Leonard
17 Mar 2014 View Comments
The ICANN logo

The US is to relinquish control of the root zone file, which contains all names and addresses of all top-level domain names, US assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information, Lawrence E Strickling, announced on Friday, according to ArsTechnica.

Since 1997 the domain name system (DNS) has been controlled by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), under the US Department of Commerce, with the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) deciding overall government policy.

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The timing may have more than a little to do with the forthcoming ICANN meeting, which is to be held in Brazil in April 2014.

Brazil was particularly angered by early Snowden revelations that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on its national oil company Petrobras: "Petrobras does not represent a threat to the national security of any country. It represents one of the largest oil concerns in the world and is the property of the Brazilian people," said Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff last September.

Since then Brazil has announced plans to build its own independent data centres and technology to escape from US hegemony.

The move has been mooted for almost two decades, although for various reasons the US has managed to retain control over the top level domains. While seeking to explain the latest move as a logical progression, the fact that many top internet figures were unaware of the planned changes suggests different motives.

Whatever the reason behind the sudden change of heart, Vint Cerf, co-inventor of the TCP/IP protocol, and now a vice president at Google, welcomed the move.

"The announced change would ultimately eliminate the contract between ICANN and NTIA and leave it to ICANN and the internet community to create a transparency and accountability regime that is rooted in the multistakeholder model of administration," he told ArsTechnica.

"The Affirmation of Commitment (AOC) might be revised in such a way that any interested government could sign on to a relationship with ICANN. The AOC is not an oversight relationship. Rather, it is a mutual commitment by ICANN and a government to recognise one another's responsibilities regarding the internet, within the context of ICANN's specific role."

ICANN's role as Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, as approved by the Department of Commerce, will expire on 30 September 2015, and it is thought that until then this role will be retained. Ultimately, however, the control of DNS will be passed into the hands of multiple international stakeholders.

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