Directing traffic in cyberspace

The European Commission is calling for international talks on managing internet traffic.

Over the past 40 years, the internet has evolved from a US government project into a global communications grid. But there is only one cop directing all the traffic – a California-based organisation called ICANN.

ICANN or Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is a non-profit body that oversees the routing and address system in cyberspace.

Founded in 1998, it operates under contract with the US government. Although ICANN is a private organisation with international board members, it ultimately answers to Washington.

The commission has repeatedly called for more international supervision of the internet, arguing that no single country should have authority over such a vital part of the global economy.

It recently renewed its appeal, noting that ICANN’s contract with the US government expires in September.

ICANN is approaching a “historic point” said information society commissioner Viviane Reding.

She questioned whether it would become a “fully independent organisation, accountable to the global internet community”.

One area of controversy includes the control of country-code domain names like .uk, .fr and .eu.

The commission proposed that ICANN should be managed by private bodies “without government interference in day-to-day operations”.

The question has become more pressing as ICANN moves ahead with plans to expand the number and type of internet addresses available.

With 1.5 billion people using the network every day, ICANN is under pressure to offer more domain name suffixes like .com, .org, and .net.

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