U.S. Removed as Overseer of Internet Domain Names
By Cameron Langford, Courthouse News Service
GALVESTON, Texas (CN) — Oversight of the nonprofit that manages internet domain names passed from the U.S. government to a "global multistakeholder community" Saturday after a federal judge refused Texas' 11th-hour request to block the transfer.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, managed domain names and the assignment of internet service provider numbers under a contract with the U.S. Department of Commerce that expired Sept. 30.
As of Saturday, the U.S. government is no longer responsible for stewardship of ICANN's internet-management functions, a move that internet-freedom advocates championed as essential to tamping down the misperception of the U.S. government as the internet's overlord.
Advocates of the transition said keeping the U.S. government in its management role would have given countries like China, which censors online criticism of its Communist government, an excuse to divide its networks from the World Wide Web and crack down more deeply on its citizens' online conduct.
"This historic moment marks the transition of the coordination and management of the internet's unique identifiers to the private-sector, a process that has been committed to and underway since 1998," the California-based nonprofit ICANN said in a statement Saturday.
Stephen D. Crocker, the chairman of ICANN's board, said in a statement the transition has been in the works for 18 years and he lauded "the tireless work of the global internet community" in seeing it through.
"This community validated the multistakeholder model of internet governance. It has shown that a governance model defined by the inclusion of all voices, including business, academics, technical experts, civil society, governments and many others is the best way to assure that the internet of tomorrow remains as free, open and accessible as the internet of today," Crocket said.
ICANN's press release said "internet users will see no change or difference in their experience online as a result of the stewardship transition."
Politics threatened to derail the transition as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican, argued before Congress that the U.S. government would be handing over control of the internet to countries like Russia, China and Iran that jail political dissidents, threats that four Republican-led states took seriously enough to take the government to court.
Texas, Arizona, Nevada and Oklahoma filed a federal lawsuit Sept. 28, seeking to block the transfer of ICANN oversight.
They claimed that without the U.S. government watching over it, "ICANN could simply shut down '.gov,' preventing public access to state websites" and could compromise free-speech rights by assigning internet users domain names that would make their content nearly impossible to find online.
U.S. District Judge George Hanks refused Friday to grant the states a temporary restraining order.
Andrew Bridges with Fenwick West in San Francisco submitted an amicus brief to Hanks on Friday on behalf of the Internet Association, the Internet Infrastructure Coalition and the Internet Society and several other groups.
The Internet Association is composed of 40 leading internet companies, including Facebook, Google and Amazon; the Internet Infrastructure Coalition represents tech firms "who build the nuts and bolts of the internet," according to its website; and the Internet Society is a nongovernment organization headquartered in Virginia and Switzerland with more than 80,000 members in over 150 countries that facilitates global coordination of internet standards.
Bridges said on Monday that although Judge Hanks did not formally accept the friend-of-the-court brief into the case record, he believes it played a part in Hanks' decision to deny the states an injunction.
"Whether the judge accepts or denies our amicus brief is sort of moot. We believe that the judge got and read our amicus brief before the hearing and that's what was important. So what happens formally at this point probably doesn't matter much. I think the case is basically over," Bridges said in a phone interview.
He added, "This whole case was a political attempt to stop the transition that occurred at midnight Friday night. That transition has now occurred so it's not possible to stop it any longer."
The amicus brief criticizes the states' lawsuit as betraying "profound misunderstandings about how the internet operates and about the transition itself," and explains that any changes to the .gov domain must still be approved by the U.S. government.
Despite the injunction denial, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the case is not over.
"It's a dire day in our country when the president is allowed to unilaterally give away America's pioneering role in ensuring that the internet remains a place where free expression can flourish. We will continue to weigh our options as the suit moves forward," a spokesperson for his office told the Texas Tribune.
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