Domain Overseer Approved Governance Bylaws Changes

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By Joseph Wright

May 27 — The primary domain name system overseer approved May 27 bylaws amendments designed to recreate the organization as a self-governing entity free of U.S. government oversight, two directors announced in e-mails.

Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers directors Chris Disspain and Bruce Tonkin announced in separate e-mails to an ICANN working group mailing list that the board of directors approved a slate of bylaws changes implementing a series of structural and governance changes for the organization.

The amendments embody a proposal, two years in the making, to remove the U.S. government from the process of approving technical operations changes that allow the Internet to function. ICANN's board approved the proposal March 10 and transmitted it to the U.S. Commerce Department, which is currently reviewing the plan.

The move comes as several U.S. senators are questioning the Obama administration initiative to remove the U.S. government from its unique Internet oversight role. The administration conditioned the transition on not increasing the role of other governments in the absence of U.S. oversight. But some Republican senators claim that the bylaws changes could increase the influence of governments working within ICANN's policy-making processes.

The bylaws incorporate outputs from two concurrent processes. One process created an ICANN subsidiary to house the technical functions that are currently performed within ICANN itself under a federal contract. The second process made governance changes designed to provide enhanced accountability in the absence of federal oversight.

The technical functions in question relate to the naming, numbering and protocols conventions that allow computers worldwide to interoperate as a global network. The Commerce Department must approve changes, although it has said these approvals are purely secretarial. Removing the U.S. from this process has been a joint Commerce and State Department initiative to counteract the impression elsewhere in the world that the U.S. government controls the Internet.

The bylaws changes are part of ICANN's efforts to prepare for a transition at the end of ICANN's current functions control, which expires on Sept. 30. The Commerce Department holds options to extend the current contract for up to three years.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is currently circulating a draft bill that would prohibit the oversight transition ( see related story ). And a group of five Republican senators, led by Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) sent Assistant Commerce Secretary Lawrence Strickling a May 24 letter calling ICANN's revised governance model “untested” and suggesting a “parallel testing” process before the transition should be allowed to take place. Such testing would require an extension of the Commerce Department's current ICANN contract.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joseph Wright in Washington at jwright@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Alexis Kramer at akramer@bna.com

For More Information

Rubio's letter is available at http://src.bna.com/fpn.