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U.S. Prepares To Relinquish Oversight Of Internet To International Body


The United States is giving the Internet to the world. That's how the folks who organize the folks see it. They're getting ready to move away from U.S. oversight to a more international model. And that's what we're exploring today on All Tech Considered.


SHAPIRO: If you were devising a global conspiracy theory about a secret group of people who control the Internet, then ICANN would probably be at the center of it. ICANN is a nonprofit group based in California. It stands for the the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. These are the people who make sure that if you type into a web browser anywhere in the world, it'll take you to the same page. They are the folks who created .org, .com, .edu and, more recently, .pizza, .shopping and a hundred other variations. Well, the CEO of ICANN, Fadi Chehade, joins us now. Welcome to the program.

FADI CHEHADE: Thank you - happy to be here.

SHAPIRO: Something that I'm sure you think about everyday but, to be honest, I didn't think about it until I started preparing for this interview is that the Internet is a place we go that is not owned by a company. We don't all start from the same landing spot. We don't all have the same homepage. It's really unusual in that respect.


SHAPIRO: And you're kind of the gatekeeper of that, in a sense.

CHEHADE: We are a gatekeeper of one part of the Internet. The Internet has many layers. We're responsible for a layer that keeps it as one Internet because the Internet is not national. It's a transnational resource. It's a resource that does not get built along the nation state lines. And therefore, everything we have in the world to govern ourselves, which is built around the nation state model, is currently challenged by the transnational nature of the Internet.

SHAPIRO: And if, in a sense, ICANN is sort of the gatekeeper, what are you deflecting from the gates? What are the negative things that you are trying to hold at bay?

CHEHADE: The fragmentation of the Internet. And what does this really mean? It means if you type in New York, you will get to the NPR server. If you type it, say, in another country, you may end up in a different place. The power of the Internet is that we have the integrity of the identifiers coordinated by ICANN.

SHAPIRO: And the reason we want to talk to you today is that ICANN is basically going global in a way that it has not before. Explain, in layman's terms, what exactly is happening.

CHEHADE: The U.S. had the vision since the inception of ICANN in the late-'90s that, at some point, this organization should be an organization governed by the world, by businesses, by civil society, technical people, government, all of them together building consensus to govern what we do. That has now come to fruition. The U.S. government decided to end its unique stewardship of our role and to let the world do its job.

SHAPIRO: Explain how if the new model of ICANN will have people at the table from Russia and China and Saudi Arabia and many other countries, why can't some of those countries that oppose free expression get together and say, we're going to shift the flow of information slightly in this direction.

CHEHADE: Because consensus in our community means they will have to convince everyone else. And at ICANN, everyone else includes all the stakeholders, and it will take a lot more to get that group to go along with one particular harmful strategy or policy that would limit the freedom and the openness of the Internet.

SHAPIRO: Well, that makes it sound like harmful or helpful, it would be nearly impossible to get everybody to agree on virtually anything.

CHEHADE: Well, in fact, this may be part of the solution - that is, make it difficult for consensus to be built except for things that really are common denominators that allow us to maintain the layer of the internet that ICANN coordinates.

SHAPIRO: Do you think this will really happen next year? Your group had a meeting in Dublin this fall and came away with some questions about whether this is really on track.

CHEHADE: We are on track, and it seems like we will deliver the final proposal to the U.S. government in January of 2016.

SHAPIRO: Are you often told that the wrong person in your job would make an ideal super villain? (Laughter) You know, in the James Bond-type movie, it's, like, the person who keeps the internet whole and intact and accessible and free and coherent. That would be a pretty good super villain for a James Bond film.

CHEHADE: I must tell you, the power of the ICANN model is that no one person - not myself, not anyone - has truly the controls that people think anyone shouldn't have. We all agree. No one should have those controls. I am just, frankly, here to ensure the values and the principles we all agree on are maintained. But the decisions must come from the bottom up through a very complex consensus approach, but it's what guarantees that no one has control over a recourse that has become so vital for our lives and our economies.

SHAPIRO: That's Fadi Chehade, the CEO of ICANN, the organization that, more or less, organizes and runs the Internet. Thank you very much for talking with us.

CHEHADE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.