By Rob Lever ,AFP
WASHINGTON — It could be a difficult breakup between the U.S. government and the Internet. A plan unveiled last month would see the U.S. relinquish its key oversight role for the Internet, handing that over to “the global multistakeholder community.” U.S. officials say the move is part of a longstanding effort to privatize the technical oversight of the Internet. But it comes amid growing international pressure for Washington to step back from what some countries claim is a dominant role in the Internet.
Tensions have been exacerbated by the outcry over leaked documents showing the National Security Agency’s vast surveillance capabilities, feeding concern that the U.S. manipulates the Internet for its own purposes. Some critics argue, however, that Washington is “giving away” the Internet, posing long-term threats to online freedom and commerce. Representative Marsha Blackburn contends that the U.S. shift “will allow countries like China and Russia, that don’t place the same value in freedom of speech, to better define how the Internet looks and operates.” Some observers say the U.S. is seeking to avoid the more extreme step of handing control over to a more politicized body, such as an arm of the United Nations. “There have been a lot of fairly wild suggestions of how Internet governance should be changed,” said U.S. lawyer Greg Shatan. Shatan participates in working groups of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a non-profit organization that took over some of the functions in 1997 under an agreement with the U.S. government. In late 2012, a group of countries voted against the United States on a telecom treaty Washington said could open the door to regulation of the Internet by the U.N.’s International Telecommunications Union. “A lot of these governments are not looking for a free and open Internet,” Shatan told AFP. “They are looking for a moderated, controlled Internet.” But the U.S. announcement calling for a new oversight system by September 2015, says Shatan, blunts that effort and could help bring “swing states” back in line with Washington. The U.S. Commerce Department official heading the key unit in charge of the Internet, Lawrence Strickling, said at a forum Friday that Washington is handing over what is “largely a clerical task” in verifying the accuracy of the Internet’s so-called root zone. And he added that “nothing will happen unless we have a consensus” on governance that also meets the U.S. criteria of avoiding a government-led or intergovernmental plan.