ICANN sets up 'coalition' to address new Internet governance challenges

The move by ICANN may be linked to increasing demands for restoring trust in the Internet after reports of surveillance by the U.S.

ICANN has set up a panel, consisting of people in government, civil society, the private sector, the technical community and international organizations, to address concerns about the governance of the Internet.

The "Panel on the Future of Global Internet Cooperation," which will have its first meeting in December in London, will release for public comment a report early next year on Internet governance, principles and proposed frameworks for global Internet cooperation, and a roadmap for future Internet governance challenges, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers said Sunday.

The move by ICANN may be linked to increasing demands for restoring trust in the Internet after reports of surveillance by the U.S., and also demands from countries like Russia and China for greater participation in the governance of the Internet. ICANN was not immediately available for comment.

The Internet's numbering and naming system is currently regulated by ICANN under contract with the U.S. government.

The formation of the panel follows a confidential ICANN board resolution in August that said that in the wake of global concerns about governance of the Internet, the increasing pressures cannot be addressed by ICANN alone, but only by a coalition of similarly concerned organizations and entities.

The action by the board was described as step towards how ICANN can assist the global community in addressing Internet governance issues through global multi-stakeholder cooperation "without compromising or increasing ICANN's mandate."

The formation of the panel follows rising concerns about U.S. spying worldwide, including allegedly through real-time access to content on servers of Internet companies, and through direct access to communications links connecting the data centers of Google and Yahoo. The Internet companies have denied participation in these programs after they were disclosed through newspapers by former National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden.

The Montevideo "Statement on the Future of Internet Cooperation" in October expressed strong concern over the "undermining of the trust and confidence of Internet users globally" in the wake of the revelations about NSA surveillance.

The meeting in Montevideo in Uruguay was held by organizations responsible for coordination of the Internet technical infrastructure like ICANN, Internet Engineering Task Force and World Wide Web Consortium, and also called for accelerating the globalization of ICANN and IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) functions, so that all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on an equal footing, though it also warned against Internet fragmentation at a national level.

Besides Iran, which has talked about a walled national Internet, Brazil's legislature is considering a bill that will require in-country data storage, in response to reports that the U.S. spied on Dilma Rousseff, the country's president. Google has warned of a "splinternet" of smaller, national and regional pieces with barriers around them.

Demands for regulation of the Internet are also on the increase, Google said. The issue of the control and regulation of the Internet divided the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in December, hosted by the International Telecommunication Union in Dubai. Some countries like the United Arab Emirates and Russia proposed greater control for countries in the running of the Internet, which was opposed by the U.S.

The final treaty of the WCIT, which comes into effect in 2015, did not refer to the management of the Internet, but a non-binding proposal in the appendix stated that all governments should have an equal role and responsibility for international Internet governance, the security and stability of the Internet, and its future development.

The new ICANN panel will have 19 members, acting independently of their organizations. Among them are Fadi Chehade, CEO and president of ICANN, Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google, Mitchell Baker, chair of the Mozilla Foundation, Jimmy Wales, cofounder of Wikipedia and Mohamed al Ghanem, founder and director general of the UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. More people will be added to the panel which is currently chaired by Toomas Ilves, president of Estonia and has Cerf as vice-chairman.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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