Over the past few days, Net Politics has been examining the top five developments in cyber policy of 2014. Each cyber policy event has its own post, explaining what happened, what it all means, and its impact on cyber policy for 2015. In this post, the IANA transition.
Alex Grigsby is the assistant director for the Digital and Cyberspace Policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations.
One of the biggest cyber policy developments of the year is undoubtedly the U.S. government’s announcement to transition certain critical administrative functions that keep the Internet running, known collectively as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions, to the multistakeholder community. Currently, the U.S. government contracts the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to carry out the IANA functions, a long-standing irritant for a number of countries that don’t like one country having ultimate control over critical Internet infrastructure. This irritation became even greater as a result of the Snowden disclosures, with many states believing that the United States has been able to leverage its dominant position as a hub for global Internet traffic into unmatched intelligence capabilities.
According the the United States’ conditions for the transition, any proposal must (1) have broad support from the broadly-defined Internet community, (2) enhance the current multistakeholder model, (3) maintain the security and stability of the Domain Name System that translates domain names like cfr.org into Internet Protocol addresses, and (4) maintain the openness of the Internet. The proposal cannot offer an intergovernmental model to manage the IANA functions, where governments have ultimate decision-making authority. This effectively rules out fears that the IANA transition will lead to a UN takeover of the Internet.
While the announcement has been controversial at home, it opened up room for diplomatic maneuver, taking some pressure off the United States especially at the NetMundial meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Brazil has traditionally argued against the inequality of the IANA contract and for the need for its internationalization. The Snowden disclosures of mass surveillance of Brazilian citizens as well as the alleged tapping of the personal communication of President Dilma Rousseff reinforced Brazilian skepticism of the U.S. position. It seemed more than likely that when it was first announced in October 2013 one of the main points of debate when the NetMundial meeting actually convened would be the U.S. role in the Internet governance ecosystem. Had the United States not made the announcement, NetMundial could have been divisive, potentially recreating some of the tensions from the World Conference on International Telecommunications that everyone was trying to avoid. Instead, NetMundial produced an outcome document strengthening the multistakeholder model and agreeable to the vast majority of participants.
To be sure, the success of NetMundial can’t only be attributed to the the United States’ announcement. Brazil deftly handled some of the diplomatic challenges and competing interests that comes with a meeting where governments, business, civil society, and academia are asked to come to a rough consensus on an outcome document. It led to some pretty surprising imagery. Senior government representatives, used to speaking among themselves in closed-door sessions, queued at microphones to speak and shared the floor with Internet activists at a live-streamed event. The combination of the United States’ announcement and Brazil’s deft maneuvering ensured a successful meeting.
Despite the transition announcement, 2015 is shaping up to be a bumpy year. First, it doesn’t look like there will be a transition proposal submitted to the U.S. government’s consideration in time to meet a September 2015 deadline. At the deadline, the contract with ICANN expires and it is possible that the United States will extend for a short time to allow the community to fully develop its proposal.
Second, complicating things further, Congress has entered the fray. In the recent law that keeps the U.S. government running, Congress inserted a provision that prevents the executive branch from spending money on efforts to relinquish the U.S. government’s authority over the IANA functions until September 30, 2015, when the law expires. While the actual impact of the provision on the transfer process is subject to debate, Congressional involvement in the process could slow the transition and irritate those which were hoping the transfer would happen sooner rather than later.