U.S. seen giving up internet governance in wake of spy scandal

Technology expert Rod Beckstrom says trust in the internet ‘has been shattered’

Ben Flanagan
Ben Flanagan - Al Arabiya News, Abu Dhabi
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The U.S. is expected to relinquish its remaining powers of governance over the internet in the wake of the recent scandal over electronic snooping, according to a leading technology expert.

Rod Beckstrom, former chief of an organization that oversees the architecture of the internet, said there was a “crisis” in perceptions of the internet.

“The internet is absolutely in crisis right now. The trust has been shattered because of the news on surveillance that is coming out of multiple countries,” he said.

Beckstrom was speaking after revelations earlier this year over the extent of electronic surveillance by America’s National Security Agency and other global agencies.

He told Al Arabiya News that he expects the United States to give up its governance of the internet through its unilateral agreement with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann).

Icann oversees a number of internet-related tasks that were previously controlled by the U.S. government.

Steps have already been taken to make Icann a multi-stakeholder organization involving other countries. But it is still linked with the U.S. government through a unilateral agreement known as the Iana contract, which relates to how domain names (such as .com and .org) are linked to numeric addresses.

Beckstrom said that he expects a renewed impetus to phase out the unilateral Iana agreement following the recent surveillance scandals and the public mistrust that ensued.

“Icann… has a unilateral relationship with the U.S. government. And the question that has come up in light of the news is a question of shouldn’t all voices in the world be treated equally with respect to internet governance,” he said.

“The Iana contract… has not yet expired. And as a result of the recent developments, now there will be enough international pressure to get the United States to look at handing it over.”

Beckstrom said he expects this to happen by 2018.

“I would hope it happens in the next year or two in terms of the renegotiation of the contract. And that might then have a phase-out process,” he said. “I would say it’s a great outcome for the world if we get this thing going in the right trajectory and it becomes more independent within five years.”

Icann was created by the U.S. government with the intention of becoming an “international multi-stakeholder body”, Beckstrom said.

He expects the U.S. to be open to a change in the Iana contract – adding that the government never imposed on him when he was head of Icann.

“The U.S. has been very benign in its involvement with Icann,” he said. “As the CEO of Icann, the U.S. government never once asked me in my three years’ of leadership of the organization to do something for them to the detriment of any other country in the world.”

Beckstrom was speaking at the World Economic Forum’s Summit on the Global Agenda in Abu Dhabi, which concluded today.

He said that the U.S.’s involvement with Icann formed part of the agenda during the meeting.

“The feedback from the discussions here is that a lot of people in world are not happy with the unilateral aspect,” he said.

Icann did not immediately respond to a request for comment when contacted by Al Arabiya News.

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