US influence on the internet worries EU body

An European Union committee has said that Europe is too reliant on US infrastructure and services, though Icann disputes this claim

Europe's reliance on US internet infrastructure and services could have a harmful effect on digital security in the region, an EU committee has warned.

"A possible threat to internet security is that so many internet services are controlled from the States," Thomas McDonogh, a member of the influential European Economic and Social Committee, told the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation conference on Thursday.

The committee, which gives employers, unions and other interests a voice in the EU, produced a position paper on the protection of critical national infrastructure in December. That paper recommended that Europe should address critical infrastructure security and resilience in a systematic way, and it said that taking care of this is the frontline of cyberdefence. McDonogh was the rapporteur for that report.

McDonogh told ZDNet UK that much of the infrastucture of the internet, as well as many internet-based services such as financial and cloud services, is controlled by the US public and private sectors.

"We're friends with the US at the moment, but we may not be in 10 years time," he said.

BT's Martin Koyabe, a senior researcher in critical infrastructure security, said while the internet had grown out of US systems, internet governance and control now rested on collaboration between countries. "There's a lot of collaboration at the technical level,"he said.

The US government had control of the Icann, until the non-profit group gained its independence in September 2009. The EU had been pushing for international accountability for Icann, which oversees core mechanisms of the internet such as domain name and IP address allocation.

John Crain, a director at California-based Icann, rebuffed the suggestion that the internet is bound to the US government. He said that it is a mistake to think in terms of borders.

"The internet is so decentralised, no one government has control," said Crain. "You hear people talking about national internets, but it doesn't work that way."

While the majority of large cloud providers and credit card companies are US-based, this was not the same as saying that they are under the control of the US government, Crain noted.