It sounds like something you don’t want to know too much about. When you type an address into your computer’s browser, you go to that address. How your computer knows where to find the Google image of kittens and puppies isn’t your problem, is it? Well, it might be. Not kittens, perhaps, but what if you want to find the Israeli Ministry of Tourism or the American Constitution?
DNS and ICANN are acronyms you should know. DNS is the Internet domain name system — a single list that gets you to the server that runs the program you’re looking for. ICANN is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which manages DNS under a contract with the U.S. Department of Commerce. If it sounds like an American monopoly, it is — for now, but not much longer.
Although the Internet is an American invention — by the Pentagon — ICANN has an international board of “stakeholders,” including foreign governments, civil society activists and corporations. They have long wanted control and they are about to get it. The U.S. has agreed to give up exclusive control of ICANN to an international governing system yet to be developed. However the system emerges, what is clear is that the Commerce Department will no longer manage the list. Russia and China have argued for individual countries to manage the DNS — which would enable them to decide which organizations, companies, or individuals could have a domain name; and when to remove access to a domain name. Others have argued for a UN body to take over — with all the political machinations one would expect, including discrimination against Israel and the United States.
Business Week explains:
That is the advantage of the current… single-domain-name system. No country (other than the U.S.) gets to decide what idea deserves a Web address, and while U.S. policies and practices in other cyber realms have been less than stellar, it has been an outstanding protector of free speech on the Internet. Power can exist even when it isn’t exercised or even visible. The Commerce Department has ensured the growth of a lively, commercial, obstreperous Internet in the same way the European Union thrived, in part, under the protective umbrella of all those American tanks waiting to roll into the Fulda Gap.