ICANN transition moves forward, despite last-minute attempt to block it

The legal fight over the transition away from US oversight may not be over, however

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the long-time coordinator of the internet's Domain Name System, is independent of U.S. government oversight, at least for now.

The U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration's planned turnover of ICANN oversight to the wider internet community happened early Saturday morning, despite a last-ditch lawsuit filed by four state attorneys general attempting to block the move.

Late Friday, a judge in Texas refused to issue an injunction that would have forced the NTIA to retain its oversight of ICANN's coordination of the Domain Name System root and IP addressing functions.

The legal fight may not be over, though. The judge's ruling does not "resolve the underlying legal questions raised by the states," wrote Berin Szóka, president of TechFreedom, a free-market think tank opposing the move. "Nor does it mean the transition is a done deal."

A court could still rule that the NTIA did not have the authority to "relinquish its responsibilities" and could order ICANN and NTIA to negotiate a new contract, he added.

The four states aren't likely to give up their case, and other parties could join the fight, he said. "And even if this lawsuit fizzles, some other plaintiff could raise the issue in the future," he wrote. "This issue could cast a long shadow over ICANN for years until a court finally rules on the merits."

Several tech trade groups have pushed for the transition to move forward. The Internet Association praised the transition, saying the move gives oversight to a wider community "with strong accountability measures and controls."

The transition is "good for U.S. national security, the economy, and for the future of the internet," the trade group said in a press release. Supporters of the transition have argued that continued oversight of ICANN has prompted other countries to complain about outsized U.S. control over internet functions and to push for international control.

The long-time policy of the U.S. government has been to eventually end its oversight of ICANN. But some Republicans, led by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, have protested the decision to end ICANN oversight by President Barack Obama's administration. Cruz has suggested that the transition amounts to the U.S. giving away the internet, although ICANN's authority is limited to administering the DNS.

Cruz and other critics have suggested that a lack of U.S. oversight would allow repressive regimes to more easily censor the internet, although neither ICANN nor the U.S. government can control how other countries block content within their borders.

Some conservatives fear the lack of U.S. government oversight will embolden other countries or international bodies to attempt to take control of ICANN. The ICANN community has put together a transition plan designed to prevent that from happening, but those questions remain.

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