Republican lawmakers are accusing the Obama administration of allowing countries like Russia, China and Iran to take control over the Internet. Their beef with the administration focuses on a relatively obscure nonprofit overseen by the U.S. government that is scheduled to become fully independent Saturday.
The organization is called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN for short. Its history traces back to a graduate student at UCLA named Jon Postel.
He started keeping track of the unique numbers assigned to particular computers using the Internet, during its early days. Jonathan Zittrain, an Internet law professor at Harvard, says Postel kept a clipboard to make sure no user had the same number — sort of like a phone book.
“It was just sort of an honor system that would stop Caltech from coming in, or Bulgaria, from saying, ‘You know what, we’re going to start using those numbers,’ ” Zittrain says. “It’s just something that would be a way of coordinating as people came online and needed to use numbers and, later, names.”
Today that function is done by ICANN, a nonprofit based in Los Angeles with a budget of more than $130 million and more than 350 employees. It keeps track of millions of websites all over the globe.