US government set to give up net oversight powers

Screengrab of Edward Snowden addressing the SXSW festival Calls for the US to have less to do with the net have intensified in the wake of Edward Snowden leaking information about NSA surveillance

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The US government has declared it wants to stop being in charge of how the internet is run.

The US Commerce Department has announced its "intent" to hand control over to the wider net community.

It has asked net overseer Icann to work out how to shift control from the US government to an alternative body.

It said it wants the successor controlling body to be made up of both private companies and government representatives.

'Critical' time

The way the internet came about meant the US retained ultimate control over how the network was operated. The process of stepping back from that began in 1998 with the creation of Icann (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers).

Under contract from the US government, Icann oversees the net's addressing system that underlies everything people do online.

Now it wants to go further and let Icann run that addressing system without any US interference.

In a statement setting out its plan, assistant secretary of commerce Lawrence Strickling said the handover must "support and enhance the multistakeholder model" for the governing of the net as well as maintain its openness.

Dr Stephen Crocker, chairman of Icann's board, said the day the net would be free of US oversight had been "long envisioned".

"We have all long known the destination," he said in a statement. "Now it is up to our global stakeholder community to determine the best route to get us there."

He said Icann had issued invitations to governments, companies, net organisations and civil groups to help it work out how the transfer of power should be accomplished. Icann said the new body should be in place by September 2015 when its current contract with the US government expires.

Calls for the US to have less of a role in the running of the net have intensified in recent months as whistle-blower Edward Snowden has leaked information about the extent of surveillance by America's National Security Agency.

In February, Neelie Kroes, the European Union commissioner who oversees telecommunications policy, said US oversight had to end.

In a more recent statement, she welcomed the US decision to hand over control and said: "The next two years will be critical in redrawing the map of internet governance - all those with an interest in preserving a trusted, free and open internet must act now."

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