US Congress oils up, jumps over ropes into DNS wrestling match

New bill would give it veto rights, new amendment kills funding again


Updated The US Congress is trying to insert itself into the transition of the IANA contract from the Department of Commerce to domain-name overseer ICANN.

In an amendment that will be put before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week, the legislative branch of the US government will give itself 30 days to review the transfer and so would potentially be able to stop the IANA power handover if it passed a new bill.

It also requires that the relevant arm of the Department of Commerce, the NTIA, certify that the transfer meets the five criteria first laid out last year and, more importantly, that the NTIA certify that ICANN has approved and implemented all the bylaws changes that are contain in two upcoming reports from internet community working groups, before the transition occurs.

If the bill – which would be an amendment to Dotcom Act (H.R. 805) – is agreed, the upshot is significant. First, it would directly involve Congress in the process, and so introduce US politics into a process that the executive branch specifically excluded in order to make it manageable.

And second, it would undercut efforts by the ICANN board to claim an effective veto over any changes by saying that, without their approval, the process does not meet the full consensus requirements.

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 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 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.

Passage of the bill and the broader Dotcom Act is far from certain given the current climate of highly polarized politics, but the proposed amendment appears to have the support of both the chairman and ranking member on the commerce committee, suggesting bipartisan support.

And elsewhere

There are a number of other efforts going on in Congress over the IANA transition. Late last month, a revised version of the Defending Internet Freedom Act was also introduced.

It also lent support to efforts by internet community groups but added explicit requirements including that no government representatives be allowed to become directors of ICANN and that ICANN submit to the US Freedom of Information Act.

Meanwhile, Congress has repeated its actions of last year by passing an amendment to the appropriations bill that prevents the NTIA from using any funds to carry out the transfer. Assistant Commerce Secretary Larry Strickling admitted last year that this amendment restricted his department's ability to act but would not prevent the IANA transfer.

While the introduction of the US Congress into the process may be useful in that it is throwing a powerful third-party at a critical decision and process, it may also come with significant downsides.

There has been very little reasoned or informed commentary on the IANA transition since it was announced. There is also a willingness to use the issue as a political football by appealing to blind patriotism and American exceptionalism.

Nuanced discussions have devolved into arm-waving about Putin and China taking over the internet – fear-mongering that is all the more likely now that we are in election season and presidential candidates have started officially declaring their intent.

It is undeniable however that Congress is interested in and may have some degree of responsibility for moving the contract away from its current home in the Department of Commerce. With Congress on side, the transition could be done more openly and with greater accountability; it is just as likely however that its involvement could turn an important process into one more pointless shouting match. ®

Updated to add

On Wednesday morning, the amendment was raised during a subcommittee hearing, and was approved. It was now pass on to the full committee.

Similar topics

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022