The recent transition of the “root zone” of the internet from a branch within the US Commerce Department to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has sparked a bunch of interest in the news this past week. Some, such as Ted Cruz, strongly oppose it, going as far as saying “If Congress fails to act, the Obama administration intends to give away the Internet to an international body akin to the United Nations.”
National Policy Director Stephen Miller said that “Congress needs to act, or Internet freedom will be lost for good, since there will be no way to make it great again once it is lost.” Personally, I scoff at these statements, as they come from people who obviously have no clue how this process works.
Let’s start with some explanations, though. ICANN is a California nonprofit that looks over all the website domains, who before were simply under contract from the Commerce Department. TLD stand for top level domains. These are things such as .com, .net, .org, etc. The “root zone” is a list that holds all of the TLDs, which is currently right around 1,000 names long. DNS stands for domain name servers, and these are the servers that turn domains such as www.google.com into an IP address that computers can understand.
By eliminating a root zone, you could simply think that you could no longer access a website. If you censored the .com TLD, nobody would be able to access www.google.com through their browser, thus it’s censored. However, this is blatantly incorrect. Don’t believe me? Go to your browser and type in 18.104.22.168; lo and behold, you arrive at Google.
A DNS Server is not necessary for the Internet to work. DNS simply exist as an ease for us humans who can’t memorize long strings of numbers and the IP addresses for our favorite websites.
Another big issue that you need to understand is that ICANN has always operated independently from the U.S. Government. Yes, they are under contract, and yes they technically could have their contract revoked. Yet, there is no other company or organization that has the capability to do what ICANN does. If you go ask tech companies and the Internet architects who built the current system, they will say that the US oversight is much too small for the so-called “doomsday scenarios” that Cruz outlines to come true. As a counter, some even say that the transition away from the US government and into a private entity under no one’s control could actually be a good thing.
Nevertheless, even with the transition, the US government still has a vast amount of control, more than any other country on the planet. Many US companies control some of the lower levels of DNS, thus allowing the US government to still shutter websites that are committing crimes. So no, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. The transition is natural and should occur, and in the long run, might even help.