How does the ICANN (DNS) takeover affect websites?

On October 1st 2017, the U.S. government plans to relinquish control of the Internet Domain Name System (DNS) and will hand over control to the non-profit organisation, ICANN.

Opinion is split, with some proponents believe this a necessary step in preventing (what could become!) potentially chaotic fragmenting of internet control. Those against the move are concerned that it may invite new forms of censorship and negatively impact free speech on the Internet.

But what does this all mean for me and you? More importantly, how could this affect your business?

WHAT IS THE INTERNET DOMAIN NAME SYSTEM (DNS)?

Every website has a domain name and IP address. You can think of the IP address as a bit like a phone number. As we have written about before here, DNS provides a lookup facility which essentially ‘translates’ from a domain name which the user enters in the browser address bar, to an IP address which is the address the browser contacts to actually fetch the web page.

As things stand at the time of writing, the US government’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has control of DNS. On October 1st when these changes are scheduled to go ahead, this control will be handed over to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

WHAT IS ICANN?

ICANN is a non-profit organisation that is already in charge of monitoring domain names and ensuring that each internet address is unique. The organisation is made up of representatives from tech giants, foreign governments and other parties comprising four advisory committees that provide advice and recommendations to ICANN.

Committees represent governments and international treaty organisations, root server operators, internet security experts and general internet users. All final decisions are down to the 15 voting board members on a 21-person board (six board members are non-voting liaisons).

HOW WILL THE HANDING OVER OF DNS AFFECT INTERNET USERS?

Now for the more useful speculation: while nobody yet knows the long term impact of the hand over, most agree the move isn’t likely to trigger any immediate changes. In future, there may be implications for the legislation used to tackle contentious issues such as intellectual property rights and brands, including copyright.

Some critics believe the removal of the US government’s control from this process could potentially hand other countries greater opportunities to censor online content. However, those in favour of the move believe the removal of a single government control to a global, politically neutral, non-profit organisation will remove the possibilities that successive U.S. governments might be tempted to use this framework to censor online free speech.

It’s worth noting that ICANN’s involvement has always been an administrative role, focussed on coordinating the internet’s technical logistics, not the policing of content. For this reason, it’s unlikely it will ever get involved should a foreign government try to censor content in another country.

So our advice to you is this: it’s unlikely you feel feel any bumps in the road when the handover is complete, but nobody is entirely certain of the consequences. The Internet in general, and Web in particular are both organically growing beasts and no doubt growing pains are a necessary consequence of this. But we are confident any issues will be ironed out through this process, and – as ever – we will need to watch what happens!