Brussels welcomes US move toward global governance of internet
The body responsible for managing the development of the internet, Icann, has cut its umbilical cord to the US government, a move the European Union has been demanding for four years.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which oversees domain names - the .com, .eu, .org and so on at the end of a web address - as of 30 September will no longer be subject to review by the US Department of Commerce.
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Instead, independent review panels appointed by Icann Governmental Advisory Committee (Gac) and Icann itself with the involvement of governments around the world. will perform this task.
Since 2005, the EU has been calling for reform of the governance of the internet, saying that the internet is a global resource and should not be tied to one national government - a position echoed by many other countries and a number of companies.
In June of this year, the European Commission raised the volume on the issue, publishing a policy document that an independent judicial body be set up, which information society commissioner Viviane Reding described at the time as a "G12 for internet governance," which would serve as a "multilateral forum for governments to discuss general internet governance policy and security issues."
Wednesday's move comes close to satisfying the EU demands, and Ms Reding welcomed the development.
"Internet users worldwide can now anticipate that Icann's decisions on domain names and addresses will be more independent and more accountable, taking into account everyone's interests," she said. "If effectively and transparently implemented, this reform can find broad acceptance among civil society, businesses and governments alike."
But the commissioner still argued that the new framework had room for improvement, notably in the realm of how to appeal against actions taken by Icann.
"I would also encourage all parties to actively explore the possibilities for stronger external appeal mechanisms in relation to decisions of the Icann board," she continued.
"Independence and accountability for Icann now look much better on paper. Let's work together to ensure that they also work in practice."
Under the new framework, the Gac, which is open to governments and public authorities from around the world, will advise the Icann board on public policy aspects of its activities. These review panels will periodically evaluate Icann's performance in relation to their public commitments.
Brussels said it would play an active role in the new committee "and in the further reform of the Gac."
The move comes a few months ahead of a radical change in internet domain names. By the end of the year, it is expected that websurfers who use Cyrillic, Greek, Arabic Chinese, Japanese and Korean writing systems will be able to type in a web address in the alphabet they feel most comfortable instead of having to use Latin script.
According to Icann, not all writing systems will be included, but the set of usable scripts is intended to broadly cover most regions of the world.
The 'http://' prefix will however stay in Latin, as it is automatically added by internet browsers.