ICANN chief: Russia, China will not hijack Internet oversight

(Reuters) – The head of a nonprofit that manages the infrastructure of the Internet defended on Wednesday the U.S. government’s move to cede oversight of the body, and downplayed concerns that Russia, China or other countries could exert control and restrict the web’s openness.

The Obama administration last month said it would relinquish oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, which controls the “address book” of the Internet, the master database of top-level domain names such as .com and .net.

Fadi Chehadé

The U.S. contract with ICANN will expire in September 2015, and last month the Commerce Department said it plans to formally turn the oversight capacity, which it says has become symbolic, over to a global multi-stakeholder mechanism that the ICANN community will propose.

The plan has provoked a backlash among some conservatives and other critics who say it may allow countries interested in limiting their citizens’ access to some information on the web, such as China or Russia, to use ICANN as a venue to push for more restrictive Internet governance policies.
“Everyone is focused on these three, four countries … but in between we have 150 other countries that value the same values we do,” ICANN’s chief executive, Fadi Chehadé, said in an interview after a congressional hearing.

“Our commitment to the multi-stakeholder model is not so much for the few who do not believe in it, it should be to the great middle mass that would like to see us stand by it and they will stand with us. This is the bet we need to make.”

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What could possibly go wrong with that bet on a “global multi-stakerholder mechanism”?