WASHINGTON DC - Finding what you're looking for on the Internet has become such a common part of Americans' everyday lives that little thought is given to the web's key identifying label - domain names.
For example, the domain "www.illinoisreview.com" doesn't just happen. Beyond something like GoDaddy.com, where domain names can be registered, there's a panel that authorizes those names called ICANN - Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. ICANN is a non-profit corporation formed to assume responsibility for the allocation or management of domain names, IP addresses, protocols, and root servers.
President Obama wants to share America's oversight of ICANN with the global community. Congressman John Shimkus is concerned about that idea, and is shepherding legislation through the U.S. Congress to set aside time for evaluation of what reliquishing ICANN oversight would mean for the internet and for free speech.
We asked Congressman Shimkus a few questions about his legislation before it faced a vote in committee.
IR: What exactly will happen to ICANN if your legislation does not become law?
SHIMKUS: We really don’t know, and that’s the problem. The Administration could move forward with their plan to relinquish U.S. oversight of ICANN to an undefined group of international stakeholders.
IR: How is it possible that a domain oversight board with members from countries that do not adhere to the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment perspective provide the same type of freedom and choices the U.S.-oversighted ICANN does?
SHIMKUS: That is my biggest concern. We have already seen countries, such as Egypt, Turkey, China, North Korea, and others, restrict Internet access and really stifle their people from communicating. My bill simply asks GAO to study the proposals to replace U.S. oversight and assess the risks that come with that governance change.
IR: Michele Neylon, CEO of domain name registrar Blacknight Solutions said:
This is an incredibly historic and important day for Internet governance. As a member of the International governance and infrastructure communities I applaud this move away from a single government to a regulating body that represents the interests of the global community. However, the real challenge now lies ahead in identifying and implementing a strong, diverse community to oversee these crucial organizations.
The internet community wants to move away from single government to a UN-type oversight board. The UN has not solved many of the world’s problems, and has indeed, thrust non-American views on Americans over the years. The power this panel would wield is nearly incomprehensible to most not following this issue.
Explain your concerns, if any, about a non-governmental board that Michele Neylon promotes in her quote.
SHIMKUS: The [Obama] administration has said they won’t accept a new Internet governance structure that includes governments. I trust that is their intention in principle, but we have to verify that is achievable in reality.
That’s why we need GAO to carefully study the proposals ICANN submits to NTIA before the administration makes an irreversible decision. What recourse would we have if the non-governmental, multistakeholder model that the administration turns over our oversight to will be protected from governments five, ten years down the road? We just don’t. But once we surrender our oversight, we’ll never be able to get it back.
IR: Who, among the internet community leaders, is counseling you in this legislative effort to seek GOA assessment and delay an Obama move on this issue?
SHIMKUS: I have not relied on outside interests to influence this legislation. I would, however, point out that former President Bill Clinton, Democrat and former FCC Chairman Genachowski, the Washington Post, Heritage, ATR and others have also expressed their concern [about the Obama plan].
Shimkus should get his bill through committee, and then it will proceed to the U.S. House floor. It will need to get through the U.S. Senate and then to President Obama's desk.
Stay tuned ...