A revised version of the Defending Internet Freedom Act has been introduced to US Congress – and its contents are surprising.
Last year, Congressman Mike Kelly (R-PA) put forward legislation under the same name to cover the proposed transition of the critical IANA contract from the hands of the US government to an as-yet unspecified body. That's the crucial contract that oversees the running of the world's DNS, IP address allocation, and agreements on internet protocols.
Last year's legislation (H.R. 5737) was largely prescriptive, calling for a specific consortium, an “Internet Freedom Panel,” and a range of specific measures including an inspector general.
This year's, however, (H.R. 2251) contains a number of redlines, and then largely – and explicitly – lends its support to the two internet community working groups that are devising the best way to shift the contract away from the grasp of the US government.
This is a critical step forward for the process, and may even signal the start of congressional support for the plan. To date, some in Congress have been using the proposed IANA transition as a political football, bending facts to criticize the Obama administration, and making vague patriotic calls for freedom.
The key elements – which are unlikely to be contradicted by the current proposals – are still there, most focused around keeping the IANA contract out of the hands of particular governments, and ensuring freedom of speech.
IANA: What's at stake?
The US government contracts non-profit ICANN to run the so-called IANA functions – a body that runs the highest level of the world's DNS, allocates IP addresses, and ensures developers can agree on the same numbers and protocols when writing software that communicates over the 'net. It's what keeps the internet as we know it glued together.
That crucial contract is coming to an end, and because the US wants to step away from ruling the internet like an unelected king.
The IANA contract itself comprises three main functions: names, numbers and protocols. Transition plans for the later two are largely agreed, but the most complex issue of domain names is being explored by a panel of experts called the Community Working Group (CWG). ICANN, of course, would love to run IANA all by itself, simply put.
For example, the bill states that no government representatives can be selected as director or officers of ICANN, the technical body that has run the IANA contract since 1999 and will continue to do so.
It states that the ICANN board should not be allowed to vote on proposals from its own Governmental Advisory Committee unless that committee has reached a consensus. ICANN must uphold freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association. ICANN should be prohibited from "engaging in activities unrelated to ICANN’s core mission."
All of these are issues that the internet community is almost certain to agree with. On riskier topics, such as the bill's insistence that California-headquartered ICANN continues to operate under US law, is likely to cause some bristling, but in real terms that will be the pragmatic reality of the proposals on offer.
The bill ends with three critical elements:
- That ICANN submit itself to the US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) so that its records and other information gain some degree of public access.
- That the US government be granted ownership of the .gov and .mil top-level domains.
- That ICANN adopt the recommendations of three internet community groups, which have been consulted about the transition of power, before the US government relinquishes control of the IANA contract.
The first two conditions have not yet been properly addressed in the current process, and so may actually prove useful to the internet community working groups.
For example, ICANN has long been mocked for its "Documentary Information Disclosure Policy" (DIDP); its version of FoIA that was written by its own lawyers.