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Network Connection

By Dr. Philip Baczewski, Director of  Academic Computing and User Services

Understanding

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' (ICANN) agreement with the U.S. Department of Commerce is set to expire in 2009. According to a recent report, ICANN is reevaluating it's relationship with the U.S. Government. ICAAN was created in 1998 to bring private oversight to the operation of the Internet. However, since it's inception, it has operated under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), also known as the Joint Project Agreement
(JPA), with the U.S. Department of Commerce.

What's in a name?

The Domain Name System (DNS) is at the heart of the Internet's operation. As discussed in this column previously, the names and associated numeric addresses associated with all Internet-connected computers are a key organizing factor which allows this network of networks to intercommunicate. ICANN's main role in the operation of the Internet has been to oversee the operation of the Domain Name System through management of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), the organization responsible for "the global coordination of the DNS Root, IP addressing, and other Internet protocol resources." As has also been mentioned, the oversight of top-level domains has not been without interference by the U.S. Government.

Ten years ago, the Internet was still developing and the U.S. and the world were in the midst of a boom in Internet development (not the same boom heard from the bursting "dot-com" bubble that came a couple years later.) In transition from public to private operation of the Internet, it was in everyone's best interest that the Internet continue to operate and grow without constraints. So the MOU's statement of purpose stated, "Before making a transition to private sector DNS management, the DOC [U.S. Department of Commerce] requires assurances that the private sector has the capability and resources to assume the important responsibilities related to the technical management of the DNS." At a recent meeting with the Department of Commerce, ICANN's chairman stated, "We think that the conditions have now been sufficiently met that the JPA can conclude during the months up to September 2009. The vast majority of the community responses support this conclusion."

Concerns

The concerns of the Internet community regarding the transition to a fully private ICANN include:

  1. Freedom from capture or dominance of ICANN by governments, intergovernmental organizations, or any other group of stakeholders, including private or corporate interests (including those with whom ICANN has contracts).
     
  2. Effective and efficient operations of the IANA functions by ICANN.
     
  3. Accountability of the ICANN model as a whole to its community, including affected parties.
     
  4. Continued security and stability of the Internet's unique identifiers.
Considering recent news, all of these issues and particularly number 1 above should remain a concern.

According to the New York Times and The Registry, an English travel agency selling Cuban travel packages to Europeans (totally legal for them) had its ".com" Internet sites revoked as a result of an action by of The Office of Foreign Assets Control ("OFAC") an arm of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. According to their web site, "The Office of Foreign Assets Control ("OFAC") of the US Department of the Treasury administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions based on US foreign policy and national security goals against targeted foreign countries, terrorists, international narcotics traffickers, and those engaged in activities related to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction." The web sites in question were placed on OFAC's Specially Designated Nationals List. A Specially Designated National refers to "individuals and companies owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, targeted countries." The sites names put on the list included www.aboutcuba.com, www.bonjourcuba.com, and www.ciaocuba.com.

According the New York Times, Enom.com, the company that provided the DNS registration for the web sites, shut off their operation and thus effectively shut down the English company's sales. According to ICANN the ".com" and other domains are "operated under contract with ICANN" -- that is maintain the names and addresses associated with a particular top-level domain (TLD). Enom is listed as one of the "companies accredited as registrars by ICANN". ICANN has Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policies, but I don't see an entry for what to do if your domain name is shut down because the U.S. Government does not approve of the subject of your page.

If you do a Google search on "Cuba" you find about 147 million results. I guess it's not information about Cuba that's the problem -- just ask the CIA for that. I guess it's not travel information that's the problem, since lonely planet is still in operation. But, the U.S. Government can apparently arbitrarily shut down your domain registration based on what appears to be a purely political interest. We are to understand that ICANN currently has freedom from dominance by governments? We are to understand that the U.S. is building trust in an independently run Internet? I don't think I understand.

 


Originally published, March 2008 -- Please note that information published in Benchmarks Online is likely to degrade over time, especially links to various Websites. To make sure you have the most current information on a specific topic, it may be best to search the UNT Website - http://www.unt.edu . You can also search Benchmarks Online - http://www.unt.edu/benchmarks/archives/back.htm as well as consult the UNT Helpdesk - http://www.unt.edu/helpdesk/ Questions and comments should be directed to
benchmarks@unt.edu

 

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