Europe calls time on US stewardship of the internet

The European Commission has pledged to produce a timeline for the globalisation of ICANN, the US-headquartered body that manages top level domains on the net.

The European Commission has published proposals aimed at weakening US control of key parts of the internet.

According to the EC, revelations about "large-scale surveillance" by the US National Security Agency have "called into question the stewardship of the US when it comes to internet governance".

In a document, published yesterday, the EC proposes to "establish a timeline for the globalisation of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers" (ICANN), the US-headquartered body that manages the top level domains, such as .com and .net, and the coordination of internet address spaces, IPv4 and IPv6.

ICANN is headquartered in California and under contract with the US Department of Commerce to manage the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), whose responsibilities include overseeing allocation of IP addresses worldwide.

The EC proposals also pledge that the commission will "identify how to globalise the IANA functions, while safeguarding the continued stability and security of the domain-name system".

ICANN is already independent from the US on paper , and moves are afoot to give other countries a greater stake in the running of ICANN, with the organisation establishing operational hubs in Istanbul and Singapore in 2013.

"These steps are welcome. However, ICANN's status under Californian law with a contractual relationship to a single country has not changed," the EC proposal says.

It says that governance of ICANN "must become more global in an era of the internet as it has become a vital support function of societies and economies in the whole world".

However, Neelie Kroes, digital chief for the EC, doesn't want to see the International Telecommunications Union, a UN agency, taking charge of internet governance.

"Some are calling for the International Telecommunications Union to take control of key internet functions. I agree that governments have a crucial role to play, but top-down approaches are not the right answer. We must strengthen the multi-stakeholder model to preserve the internet as a fast engine for innovation," she says.

The EC calls for more policy discussions to take place within the Internet Governance Forum, a group established by the UN for government officials, academics and business representatives worldwide to debate issues of internet governance.

The commission also plans to set up an online platform named the Global Internet Policy Observatory, which will act as a "global online resource for monitoring internet policy-making, regulations and technology to help identify links between different forums and discussions, in order to overcome 'policy silos' and help to contextualise information".

The EC plans to use these proposals as the basis for its negotiations in forthcoming international meetings on internet governance: such as the Netmundial meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil in April; the Internet Governance Forum in August and the High Level ICANN meeting.

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