ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Is the Internet Really Free of US Control?

Internet Governance

The recent decision of the United States government to cede its control over the internet's naming and addressing system to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a US-based international non-profit body, is heralded as a significant step towards the globalisation of internet's core infrastructure. But with ICANN having no special jurisdictional immunity and subject to the whims of the judicial and legislative branches of the US government as well as many of its executive agencies, the decision seems more symbolic than meaningful.

On 30 September 2016, the United States (US) government relinquished its authority to make changes to the root zone file, which is a kind of live telephone directory for the internet. This file, and essential functions pertaining to it, is managed by a US-based non-profit, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), hitherto under the direct oversight of the US government.

It is this internet’s root file that tells us where to find any internet server that we want to communicate with. For anyone trying to reach epw.in, this file allows one to find the internet protocol number of .in server, which in turn leads the user to epw.in. It is not that every communication on the internet has to pass through, or even check with, one central server that contains this root zone file. ICANN’s authoritative root zone file is republished by 13 root server operators (10 of them in the US, and one each in Sweden, Netherlands, and Japan). These root servers are then replicated in many captive servers across the world.

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