In a historic decision on Friday, the United States has decided to give up control of the authoritative root zone file, which contains all names and addresses of all top-level domain names.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), under the United States Department of Commerce, has retained ultimate control of the domain name system (DNS) since transitioning it from a government project into private hands in 1997. With Commerce’s blessing, the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) acts as the primary essential governing body for Internet policy.
The new change is in advance of the upcoming ICANN meeting to be held in Brazil in April 2014. Brazil and other nations have fumed at revelations of American spying on its political leaders and corporations, which were first revealed in September 2013 as the result of documents distributed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The South American country also threatened to build its “own cloud,” as a consequence of the NSA’s spying.
Commerce’s contract with ICANN to act as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority will expire on September 30, 2015—for now, ICANN’s role will not change.
“The timing is right to start the transition process,” wrote Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information Lawrence E. Strickling, in a statement published late Friday. “We look forward to ICANN convening stakeholders across the global Internet community to craft an appropriate transition plan.”
Stephen D. Crocker, ICANN’s Board Chair, wrote in another statement, "Even though ICANN will continue to perform these vital technical functions, the US has long envisioned the day when stewardship over them would be transitioned to the global community. In other words, we have all long known the destination. Now it is up to our global stakeholder community to determine the best route to get us there."
In a late Friday evening conference call, ICANN President and CEO Fadi Chehadé lauded the decision as “historic” and said that ICANN will be moving toward multi-stakeholder control. Chehadé said the US will not permit another country to make an exclusive contract like the US’ when 2015 rolls around, however. “The US will not hand their role to a government, a group of governments, or an inter government group... they are not saying that they’d exclude governments—governments are welcome, all governments are welcome as equal partners with all the other members of our community.”
Naturally, journalists on the call asked whether the sudden and stunning change was brought about by new pressures after the leaks made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. But Chehadé and Crocker, who was also on the call, offered evasive answers.