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Washington’s announcement last weekend, that it would soon cede control over a core function of the internet, will intensify the scramble for reorganising an institution that has become a vital part of our lives. Despite the preoccupation of the political classes with the election, the security establishment in Delhi must prepare for the defence of India’s interests in sustaining the internet as a stable, secure and open democratic space.
In focus is a non-profit organisation called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) located near Los Angeles. ICANN can be conceived as a massive post office that lets zillions of information bits go from a point of origin, A, to an intended destination, B. At the heart of it is the domain naming system (DNS), a method of sorting mail in a post office.
This involves organising a code that lends a unique identity to each user and facilitates easy communication among them. It is the DNS that lets us reach any site by typing say, “indianexpress.com”, rather than a series of numbers. The DNS is what makes the internet tick, by adjudicating potential disputes and maintaining the master list of various addresses and dividing them into different categories.
This system was initially run by one man, an American scientist, Jonathan Postel, in the University of Southern California, on a part-time basis under a contract with the Pentagon. The organisation he ran, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), was put under ICANN, established in 1998, as the first step towards the privatisation of internet management. It had a contract with the US Department of Commerce to run the DNS.
Last Friday, the commerce department announced that it would not extend the contract to the ICANN when it expires in September 2015. It has asked ICANN to prepare a transition plan for more broad-based governance of the DNS system, through consultations with all global stakeholders. The US decision to widen the base of internet governance was not unexpected. Since the revelations by Edward Snowden on the extent of American spying on governments and individuals, there has been worldwide clamour to end US dominance over the internet.
The pressure for reorganising internet management has come not only from countries like China and Russia, but also from American partners like Brazil and allies in the European Union. In fact, late last year, the small club of technical continued…