The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) sets the rules for the Internet addressing systems that make it possible for users to send email, view webpages, or otherwise connect to Internet resources. Its most visible function is to supervise the domain name system, which identifies Internet resources by "domain names" such as "wayne.edu" or "threecats.net." ICANN's control gives it authority over how domain names are structured and what they look like; it gives it regulatory and economic power over a substantial set of businesses involved with Internet addressing.[...] What kind of organization, then, is ICANN? It is in form a private body, a California-based § 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. Yet when it comes to ICANN, the usual lines between what is private and what is public have always been blurred. In this Essay, I will address the relationship between ICANN and national governments, and how that relationship has changed over time. I'll discuss the changing nature of ICANN's relationship with the U.S. government, as well as the evolution of other national governments' policy-making role within ICANN. The U.S. government was deeply involved with ICANN at the time of its formation; other world governments played a much smaller role. Those governments' functional role remained narrow even after ICANN's reinvention in 2002 gave them a greater formal say. In recent years, though, the United States has channeled most of its interaction with ICANN into a multilateral forum--ICANN's Government Advisory Committee (GAC), with representatives from a wide range of national governments--and the GAC has been increasingly involved in ICANN processes. But in part by virtue of an institutional structure carried over from the organization's formation, when it was thought that world governments should have little formal role in a "privatized" ICANN, the relationship today between ICANN and national governments is incoherent and problematic.
Governments, Privatization, and Privatization: ICANN and the GAC,
Mich. Telecomm. & Tech. L. Rev.
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