US transitioning Internet DNS control

Washington insiders know the best time to release potentially controversial news is after 5PM on a Friday afternoon -- when most journalists likely are heading home and/or otherwise are out-of-place when a big news item drops.

Today's "news dump" is groundbreaking:  The United States government is announcing plans to transition control and authority over Internet DNS to an international multiparty organization once its current contract with ICANN expires in 2015. ("Relinquishing control" is how some in DC described it.)

Since 1997, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), under a contract to the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) via the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), has served as the global administrative authority for the Domain Name System's (DNS) authoritative root zone file and related DNS and IP addressing matters.  Of paramount importance is ICANN's ownership of the DNS root zone file containing basic pointers to domains like .com, .org, .us, .uk, or .eu -- Top Level Domains (tlds) from which all other Internet domain names flow. (Interestingly, .mil, .gov, and .edu are not part of the ICANN root zone file and are not affected by this action.)

In its statement, the NTIA stipulates that the transition proposal must have broad community support and address the following four principles:

  1. Support and enhance the multistakeholder model;
  2. Maintain the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet DNS;
  3. Meet the needs and expectation of the global customers and partners of the IANA services; and,
  4. Maintain the openness of the Internet.

ICANN's March 23-27 meeting in Singapore is the first scheduled event to discuss the transition process. Without a doubt, net neutrality, national sovereignty, human rights, censorship, and a range of international legal issues will be involved in these discussions in addition to NTIA's declared stipulations. It is also possible that the United States is offering to transition "control of the Internet" in an attempt to restore its global credibility on technology policy following the ongoing and controversial disclosures over its global Internet surveillance activities.

The Guardian recently ran an in-depth piece on the "people who hold the keys to the Internet" providing an overview of the intricate and highly scripted process of generating DNS root zone keys. The article emphasised the collegial coordination between multiple international participants (stakeholders) in overseeing the root zone file as ICANN representatives. Coincidence?

One can only wonder what Jon Postel might say if he were around today.

Further Reading:

ICANN: Administrator of Domain Name System Launches Global Multistakeholder Accountability Process

ICANN Chair posts YouTube video response.

NTIA Announces Intent to Transition Key Internet Domain Name Functions

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