What is the Domain Name System?
The Domain Name System (DNS) is a system for naming sources of information on the internet. Each source of information has a domain name attached to it, with the domain name then being translated into IP addresses for location purposes.
Who is the IANA and ICANN?
The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) is a department of Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) that is ’responsible for the global coordination of the domain name system (DNS) Root, IP addressing, and other Internet protocol resources’ (IANA n.d). It essentially manages the administration of all domain names in the world including:
- top level domain names such as .com, .org, .net; and
- country code top level domain names such as .au, .uk and .br.
As part of the administration of the domain name system, IANA assigns the management of domain names to third party managers (ICANN 2013). For example, the .com domain name is managed by VeriSign while the .au domain name is managed by an Australian operator, .au Domain Administration. In turn, responsibility for second level domain names and lower level names are managed by the respective operators for each top level domain names.
IANA’s policies for the administration of domain names are primarily contained in the RFC 1591 policy document (Network Working Group 1994). As part of IANA’s responsibilities, IANA has the powers to:
- delegate a new top level domain name on request by the relevant operator or by any interested entity.
- select the operator to manage the new top level domain name.
- revoke the authority of the operator to manage the domain name and appoint another in its place.
Influence of the US
In controlling the domain name space on the internet, IANA plays a key role in determining the future of the internet. IANA’s authority nonetheless exists by virtue of a contractual arrangement with the US government (NTIA n.d.). Prior to the establishment of IANA (ICANN), the US government exerted total control over the domain name space. It was only after demands by the rest of the world and the UN that the US made a compromise to delegate its authority to an “independent” non-profit organisation (Brito 2011).
Ultimately, the US continues to control IANA and has consistently refused to hand over control to the UN, claiming that within the UN, governments that have the loudest voices are those that are most interested in controlling free speech (Brito 2011). Nonetheless, the US is under tremendous pressure to cede control to the UN.
The concern is that if the US (and therefore IANA) allows for controversial top level domain names to be created e.g. “.gay” or “.falungong” in the name of “internet freedom”, countries, the UN (and influential countries) will take drastic steps to cease control of the domain name system. In this respect, the US government has been exerting pressure on the IANA to allow governments to have more say in the creation of new top level domain names.
Pursuant to the meeting in Beijing this year by ICANN and the Government Advisory Committee, ICANN has invited members of the public to comment on the extent of control it should exert over the domain name space and checks and balances required to be established to ensure a balance between internet freedom and country politics – see ICANN 2013, New gTLD Board Committee Consideration of GAC Safeguard Advice.
- Brito, J. 2011, ICANN vs. the World, Time Inc., viewed 29 April 2013 <https://techland.time.com/2011/03/05/icann-vs-the-world/>
- IANA n.d., Introducing IANA, viewed 29 April 2013 <https://www.iana.org/about> ICANN 2013, ICP-1: Internet Domain Name System Structure and Delegation (ccTLD Administration and Delegation), viewed 29 April 2013 <https://www.icann.org/en/resources/cctlds/delegation>
- ICANN 2013, New gTLD Board Committee Consideration of GAC Safeguard Advice, viewed 29 April 2013 <https://www.icann.org/en/news/public-comment/gac-safeguard-advice-23apr13-en.htm>
- NTIA n.d., IANA Functions Contract, viewed 29 April 2013 <https://www.ntia.doc.gov/page/iana-functions-purchase-order>
- Network Working Group, Domain Name System Structure and Delegation, viewed 29 April 2013 <https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc1591>