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US government loosens its control over the web

US government loosens its control over the web

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Today, the US government announced plans to give up a major portion of its control over the day-to-day functions of the internet, as the US Department of Commerce prepared to step away from a key oversight role over ICANN, the standards group responsible for maintaining unique IP addresses, domain names and other basic functions of web governance. ICANN was founded in 1998 as a government contractor, responsible for maintaining a fair and orderly web, but it has taken several steps away from government control in recent years. Prior to the latest changes, the Department of Commerce served on the group's Government Advisory Board, but it now appears the group will break away from oversight by any one particular country, functioning instead as an independent non-profit organization.

The move comes as particularly urgent in the wake of recent NSA revelations, which have seen the surveillance agency weaken encryption standards and attack many of the fundamental protocols for web security. As a result, countries have called on the US to relinquish its role in web governance entirely. The change likely won't have any tangible, immediate effects for webgoers, but will give government officials significantly less power to weigh in on the web's structure. Other nations have voiced concerns that the US might use its power over ICANN to block sites linked to terrorism or copyright infringement, but in practice, the interference has typically been an exercise in soft power. Earlier this week, Senator Jay Rockefeller called on ICANN to ban the ".sucks" domain name, a proposal that may prove toothless once ICANN ceases to be a government contractor.

Update: this article has been updated to more accurately reflect the proposed changes to ICANN.