US Commerce Department's decision to ease its governance over the Internet and open it up to other countries will be the subject of much debate in Brazil starting Wednesday. Government representatives from around the world are heading to Sao Paulo for Net Mundial, a two-day meeting to discuss how the future of Internet governance will be handled.
The meeting will kick off with negotiations between the US and international governments on Internet control and could extend into other topics, including cyber-spying.
Last month, the US Department of Commerce announced plans to hand off supervision of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, ICANN. In a statement, the US Commerce Department tasked the nonprofit with forming a multistakeholder approach to Internet governance.
ICANN is responsible for assigning top-level domain names and handling the Internet's Domain Name System (DNS) -- which translates numeric Internet Protocol addresses into human-readable domain names like cnet.com -- as well as managing the Web's root servers that house DNS records.
The US Commerce Department's decision is not so much a desire to cease Internet oversight, as an attempt to extend an olive branch to other governments around the world that are growing increasingly concerned with alleged US surveillance programs.
Secret documents leaked last October by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the US may have been spying on international governments and in some cases, their leaders. The news hurt international relationships, and as ICANN Chief Executive Fadi Chehade told CNET earlier this year, ”US oversight (of the Web) is not sustainable any longer.”
The Net Mundial discussions will aim to determine how oversight will be handled after the US steps aside as Internet caretaker. The Commerce Department has asked that the Web's oversight be conducted by a group of countries, companies, and members of academia.
Proposals are expected to be brought to the meetings this week that would include moving Internet administration to the United Nations -- a prospect that the US doesn't agree with. If such a move were approved by participating countries, the US has already said that it would delay any planned handover for at least four years.
All of that, coupled with the expectation of a contentious discussion over Web surveillance, will come to a head on Wednesday. However it's unclear whether anything will actually be decided at the International Confab.