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ICANN system a lesser threat to free expression than other Internet governance models, says RSF

(RSF/IFEX) - Paris, 29 September 2009 - Reporters Without Borders prefers a continuation of the status quo in international Internet governance rather than the creation of an inter-governmental system to replace the existing oversight by ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), a California-based non-profit.

ICANN has until now supervised the Internet under a contract with the US government, but the contract expires tomorrow and so far no announcement has been made as to what will happen next.

Perpetuation of the ICANN status quo is vying with alternative models, including one proposed by Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for information society and media, who wants a fully privatised ICANN to be supervised by an Internet G12 that includes an independent judicial wing.

"No one underestimates the risks of maintaining an Internet governance system controlled by a single entity," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. "But given the current lack of a better solution, we think it would be better not to meddle with this mechanism. The EU proposal to create a sort of Internet G12 strikes us as dangerous. If it were implemented, nothing would stop countries that censor the Internet domestically, such as China, Saudi Arabia and Burma, from doing everything possible to restrict online access at the world level."

Julliard added: "It is out of the question that governments that prevent their citizens from having unrestricted Internet access should tomorrow become the big shots in a worldwide Internet system. We prefer the current system which, despite its faults and weaknesses, has never threatened the free flow of online information. We therefore urge President Barack Obama not to rush into any decision that could do considerable harm to everyone's right to unrestricted access to online information. The utmost prudence is required in this matter."

Created by the US government in 1998 and progressively privatised by President Bill Clinton, ICANN manages the system of Internet addresses that connects millions of computers around the world. It also oversees the top-level domain name system, the address suffixes such as .com, .org, .fr, .uk and .nk

The status quo is criticised for giving a single government too much power over a worldwide tool in which the financial and political stakes are considerable. While this does represent a risk, until now the system has favoured the Internet's development. In fact, ICANN's supervision has posed almost no problems and has worked well until now. There is no reason to think it would not continue after tomorrow.

Reporters Without Borders has expressed its view on Internet governance in the past ( read the releases: http://www.rsf.org/spip.php?page=article&id_article=15564 and http://www.rsf.org/spip.php?page=article&id_article=24352 ), and has always taken the position that making no changes to a fairly good status quo is preferable to imposing a dangerous new model.

The continuing neutrality and indivisibility of this worldwide network depend on its oversight. The Chinese government, for example, could create its own system of domain names and thereby prevent access to its websites from abroad and access to foreign websites from within China.

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