The US Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced Friday that it will begin transitioning away from its administrative role for the Internet Domain Naming System, or DNS. The plan is to cede authority of this foundation Internet service to an international group by 2015.
"The timing is right to start the transition process," said Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information Lawrence E. Strickling. "We look forward to ICANN convening stakeholders across the global Internet community to craft an appropriate transition plan."
The big question, of course, is why NTIA is looking to separate itself from this oversight at this point in time. Believe it or not, the NSA plays a role in this.
Since 1998, the United States has been responsible for assigning Internet addresses in numerical form and it maintains the databases that connect those numerical addresses to the simpler domain names that end users are familiar with. Domain name management, however, is subcontracted out to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, which is an international non-profit agency.
Since recent allegations that the NSA (National Security Agency) has been secretly intercepting and spying on Internet traffic, privacy advocates have called for the United States to cede its control of these vital communications pathways. And oddly enough, the NTIA agrees, at least in a PR sense. So it will cede control of DNS by the time its current contract with ICANN runs out at the end of September 2015. Naturally, it had been planning to do so regardless of the recent allegations.
Whatever form it takes, the handoff is expected to be seamless and shouldn't impact users. And the NTIA has asked ICANN to oversee the transition plans.
"We are inviting governments, the private sector, civil society and other Internet organizations from the whole world to join us in developing this transition process," ICAN president and CEO Fadi Chehadé says. "All stakeholders deserve a voice in the management and governance of this global resource as equal partners."
Critics note that this change won't impact the NSA's ability to spy on Internet traffic, but then the US's oversight of Internet addresses today in no way makes that job easier either. This is really about perceptions, and about moving the administration of a globally and publicly accessible network to where it belongs: Outside of government control. But let's be fair here. The US has never abused its oversight of this information to begin with.