Senator back-pedals on warning to ICANN

Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT), who has taken the lead on many issues concerning the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), recently threatened to introduce legislation to clip its wings, then stepped back saying he would wait and see how ICANN reforms itself following its June meeting in Bucharest.

Burns had announced that he would introduce a bill requiring ICANN to give the US government more influence in managing the domain name system or else face a revocation of its contract with the US Commerce Department when it comes up for renewal in autumn. "ICANN was initially created to address technological concerns, but it's now a policymaking body without due process," said Burns. "Simply put, ICANN was never meant to be a super-national regulatory body."

Two days later, however, at the Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space hearings on ICANN, he said that he is willing to hold off on legislation while he gathers additional information. He said that ICANN's contract should be extended, although there were "some things we have to iron out". Commerce Department Assistant Secretary Nancy Victory refused to say whether ICANN's contract would be extended, but is supportive of ICANN's reform.

Peter Guerrero, a director of the General Accounting Office (GAO), testified that GAO's published analysis found ICANN slow to meet its goals of increasing internet stability and security, and bringing private internet users into policymaking. The GAO also criticized the Commerce Department's lack of documentation regarding its monitoring of and communications with ICANN.

ICANN depends on Congress and the Commerce Department for its authority, but these developments indicate that the Senate may support the renewal of ICANN's contract later this year, giving ICANN's reform efforts an opportunity to succeed. Any attempt by Congress to retract authority will receive significant international resistance from a myriad of sources, including other governments. Whether it was a smart thing to do or not, the United States gave up its monopoly on the domain name system and internet administration. Now it has to learn to live with that decision.

Douglas Wood and Linda Goldstein, Hall Dickler Kent Goldstein & Wood LLP, New York

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