We built and they came

A month ago, the U.S. Department of Commerce said it would hang on to its control of computers that direct e-mail and Web traffic on the Internet. U.S. officials previously said the control of the Internet’s domain name and addressing system would be handed over to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a private organization with international members.

That was then and this is now: The Internet has become too important, not only to our economy (the world’s too), but also to our security. We have too much riding—no pun intended—on the Internet to give it over to someone else to run. In any case, asking a U.N.-like body to openly and cooperatively oversee anything is like asking three arsonists to keep an eye on your box of matches.

Today, a bunch of academic experts on Internet policy asserted that the control should be turned over to ICANN as planned, saying that a global framework treaty will protect the Internet's unique freedoms while working jointly to resolve its problems. I never realized that the view from the Ivory Tower was so lofty.

"While we can justly claim that the U.S. invented the Internet, with over a billion users now, U.S. citizens are a small minority of the networked world," says Syracuse University professor Milton Mueller. “If the Internet's central coordination functions are seen as a U.S. strategic asset rather than as a neutral, globally shared infrastructure, the risks of deliberate disruption and politicization of the Internet can only increase."

Let’s face it: The Internet exists and works remarkably well because U.S. technologists did not have to collaborate with their international counterparts on the standards and technologies that are its foundation. If they had, we’d still be waiting for an Internet to develop.

Control of the Internet is indeed a U.S. strategic asset, so it’s hard to see why the U.S. should give it up. Whether the risks of deliberate disruption and politicization would increase is hard to say, but you’d be naive to think they would not increase just because an international body had oversight.

About the Author

Michael Alexander is editor-in-chief of Application Development Trends.

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