Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Internet Governance Forum

The second meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) has started in Rio de Janeiro. This is what is going on, according to Siliconvalley.com:

U.S. control over Internet dominates discussion at UN conference in Brazil
11/12/2007 02:51:21 PM PST

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - U.S. control over how Internet addresses are assigned - and thus how people around the world access e-mail and Web sites - dominated discussions as a major U.N. conference on the Internet opened here Monday.

Although few participants at the Internet Governance Forum attacked the United States directly, most were well aware of the role Americans play over domain name policies, including whether and how to assign suffixes in languages besides English.

"The Internet is transnational. It can't be under the authority of one country or even some countries," said Brazil's Culture Minister Gilberto Gil, who is also a major pop star here, setting the conference's tone at the opening ceremony. "The Internet should be the territory of everyone."

The Internet Governance Forum, an annual conference to discuss emerging issues including spam and cheaper access to the Internet, resulted from a compromise world leaders reached at a U.N. summit in Tunisia two years ago. There, they agreed to let the United States remain in charge, but to keep discussing the issue over the course of five years.

The forum, however, has no decision-making powers, and at most those seeking change can use the conference to pressure the United States to cede control.

At issue is control over domain names, the monikers after the "dot" like "com" and "org" that are crucial for computers to find Web sites and route e-mail. By controlling the core systems, the United States indirectly influences much of the Internet.

The U.S. government, which funded much of the Internet's early development, delegated policies over domain names to a Marina del Rey, Calif.-based nonprofit, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, over which the United States retains veto power.

Many countries complained that the U.S. influence wasn't discussed enough during the first Internet Governance Forum last year in Athens, and they won an opening-day panel devoted to "critical Internet resources."

That was supposed to cover everything from telecommunications links to technical standards, but the main focus has been on the administration of domain names by ICANN and the U.S. government.

"We all know that critical Internet resources has become a code word for ICANN issues and the underlying problem of the control of Internet by a nation-state," said Milton Mueller, a professor at Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y. "Critical Internet resources are truly global governance issue."

Mueller said an ICANN-like structure works but the U.S. and other governments ought to stay out of it.

Many critics fear opening ICANN up to an organization like the United Nations could allow governments to politicize the Internet and more easily impose censorship. By changing just a few database entries, for instance, all Web sites for a specific country - such as ".mm" in Myanmar - could instantly disappear.

Paul Twomey, ICANN's president and chief executive, said his organization was effectively "international" with only three of its 15 board members coming from the United States. The newly elected chairman is from New Zealand, and Twomey is from Australia.

Twomey said he believed the debate over U.S. control was being fueled by "high politics."

"The discussion of the role of ICANN has gone on for some time, but there is no consensus for change," Twomey said, adding he felt the discussion distracted from more important issues like providing greater Internet access to the world's poor.

With just over a billion people able to access the Internet some 5 billion more have no access.

The four-day forum, with an estimated 1,000 representatives from government, business and the civil society, also plans to address a wide range of issues including network security, fighting child pornography, language diversity, privacy and human rights.

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