Monday, July 04, 2005
FREE SPEECH: U.S. asserts worldwide control of Internet "directories"
U.S. Decision To Retain Oversight Of Internet's Backbone Criticized
By Matt Moore July 1, 2005
AP Business Writer
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- A decision by the U.S. to retain oversight of
the computers that control Internet traffic drew harsh criticism about the
lack of independence it could mean for the free-flowing, anything-goes
"This seems like an extension of American security in the aftermath of
9-11," said John Strand, a Copenhagen-based technology consultant. "People
will ask: 'Do the Americans want to control the Internet?"'
The United States announced the move Thursday, publishing a four-paragraph
statement online, saying that it would retain -- indefinitely -- oversight
of the computers that control traffic on the Internet, instead of
gradually releasing control to an international body, as some countries
That ran counter to previous U.S. policy, although Michael D. Gallagher,
assistant secretary for communications and information at the Commerce
Department, told the AP it was "the foundation of U.S. policy going
In Japan, officials said the use of the Internet for business and commerce
-- and keeping it available to all -- would be debated further in light of
the U.S. decision.
"When the Internet is being increasingly utilized for private use, by
businesses and so forth, there is a societal debate about whether it's
befitting to have one country maintaining checks on that. ... It's likely
to fuel that debate," said Masahiko Fujimoto of the Ministry of Internal
Affairs and Communications' data communications division.
Gallagher said the declaration was a response to growing security threats
and increased reliance on the Internet globally for communications and
That has done little to allay fears that the United States is overstepping
its boundaries and locking its grip on the Internet -- which is used for
everything from selling secondhand shoes to spreading Jihad and
criticizing authoritarian dictatorships.
Patrik Linden, a spokesman for the Swedish Internet infrastructure
foundation, which runs and develops the Swedish top level domain .se, said
the U.S. announcement was "rather confrontational" toward those who would
like to see an international body take control of the Internet root
"This is perhaps what a lot of people have thought that (the U.S.) has
always intended," he said.
Robert Shaw, an Internet strategy and policy adviser with the Geneva-based
International Telecommunication Union, said the U.S. decision is based on
increased concern about cybersecurity, noting that Internet addresses and
domain name servers (DNS) are government infrastructures that merit
protecting just as much as cities, water supplies and highways.
"The stability and robustness of the DNS are increasingly a concern to the
U.S. as it is a concern for many governments," he said Friday. "Many
governments are legitimately concerned that another country has ultimate
control of basically their communications infrastructure," he said.
The U.S. doesn't have direct control of the Internet. Instead, it controls
the administration of 13 computers -- known as "root servers."
The root servers tell Web browsers such as Firefox or Internet Explorer
and e-mail programs how to direct Internet traffic. Though located in
private hands around the world, they contain government-approved lists of
the 260 or so Internet suffixes, such as ".com," ".net" and country
designators like ".fr" for France or ".no" for Norway.
In 1998, the Commerce Department selected a private organization with
international board members, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names
and Numbers, to decide what goes on those lists. But Thursday's
declaration means the department will keep control over that process
rather than ceding it to ICAAN as originally intended.
Vint Cerf, a member of ICANN and co-inventor of the Internet's basic
communications protocols, said the U.S. statement's ambiguity about the
timeframe could likely lead some to think it is taking over control from
"As far as I know, the U.S. government has not changed its intentions
regarding the period after the expiration of the memorandum of
understanding but that's for the Department of Commerce to say," he said
in an e-mail exchange with the AP. "As far as I am aware, it is still the
expectation that ICANN will operate independently from the U.S. Department
of Commerce after that time."
The U.S. government has historically played the role of overseer because
it funded much of the Internet's early development.
Patrik Faltstrom, one of Sweden's foremost experts on IP technology and a
liaison for both the Internet Engineering Task Force and Internet
Architecture Board, said the U.S. announcement was "certainly negative for
a lot of countries."
"It's not going to work in the long run to have the USA deciding
everything by themselves," Faltstrom said. "It's clearly not good if one
country can say no to what (DNS changes) are made in Sweden, for example.
No country should be able to say no to that."
While the United States has yet to deny such requests, "the mere
possibility of being able to do so is pretty serious," Faltstrom said.
Critics contend that in a worst-case scenario, countries refusing to
accept U.S. control could establish their own separate Domain Name System,
thereby fracturing the Internet, with addresses in some regions becoming
unreachable in others.
Others said they were fearful of U.S. intent.
"This is a flagrant infringement of our privacy and publication rights,
especially when it comes from a foreign country," said Mohammad
al-Kisswani, who operates a Web site in Jordan. "Neither the United States
nor any other country has the right to control our lives."
"I will be very worried, because they (the United States) might dislike
something they see on my Web site and close it," he said. "It is horrible
to feel that you are watched."
A U.N. panel is to release a report this month on Internet governance,
addressing such issues as oversight of the root servers, before November's
U.N. World Summit on the Information Society in Tunisia.
Some countries have pressed to move oversight to an international body,
such as the U.N. International Telecommunication Union.