Who Will Decide if You are Entitled to an Address?

Where do you live? What is your address?  Who picked north or south, Elm or Maple, Washington or Lincoln as your street address?

In the non-digital world, our address is significant, playing a role in determining everything from what schools are children will attend to where we get our take-out; it is used not only to receive mail and decide where we will cast our vote, but also as a personal identifier for verification reasons in our digital life. Today, where you live is often by your choice, and the government, unless you are in the military, does not have the right to pick your address.

While, at least for the moment, our non-digital address is not under a threat of change, our ability to create digital addresses is very much in a state of peril.

As you know, the internet is made up of addresses, and just like you are assigned a street address for your house or apartment, the computer and mobile devices likewise, have a digital address. Additionally,, and other sites which you may visit, has a digital address which has been assigned by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority IANA, which is a department of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers ICANN.

Prior to IANA being a part of ICANN, IANA, was managed by two people, John Postel, from the University of Southern California, and Joyce Reynolds, from the University of California Los Angeles, who would maintain the list of IP addresses and other unique identifiers to internet names under an unwritten contract for the Department of Defense Advanced Research Project Agency known as, DARPA.

The list continued to grow, as the Internet expanded;  Postel and Reynolds understood the importance and the critical nature of their efforts.

(I recall, having worked on accounts where I had to literally add domain names to the DNS server, which I was responsible for, to ensure that the computers on the network could reach the required host; I remember thinking what a crazy system that you had to manually update a DNS server, and to think that there were only two people doing this for DARPA is all but unbelievable, but I can attest that it is true, this was part of my job.)

This growth led to a contract that would be formalized by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration NTIA, which is part of the Department of Commerce, and at the time under President Bill Clinton.  ICANN would be birthed as the not-for-profit corporation that would maintain the Domain Name Server DNS, thus privatizing the management of IANA. The Department of Commerce would now contract with ICANN to maintain IANA and all of its functions.

Since 1998, ICANN, has been responsible for keeping the Internet up and available for all who have access to a computer. ICANN provides the maintenance to the databases, as well as other technical responsibilities, which include the global IP address allocation, which is a unique number. If the address was not unique, we would not be able to communicate globally.  ICANN is similar to a very large address book, with everyone having a unique name and number.

Fast forward eighteen years, and as of October 1st, 2016, the Department of Commerce has allowed the present lease to expire with ICANN, thus releasing control of the Internet from the United States.

Why did the Department of Commerce allow the lease to expire with ICANN? As the Internet became global, American oversight of IANA was looked at with suspicion from other countries.

The Snowden affair did not help this argument from other countries, which proved that the National Security Agency, NSA, had spied on internet users here and abroad.  The spying of the NSA did not have anything to do with the management of IANA, but unfortunately this led to a movement for the United States to relinquish control.

There has been heated debate on both sides of this issue, as to the pros and cons of allowing the lease to expire, which gives control to an organization that is independent of any oversight.

The truth  is that now with complete autonomy the ICANN is able to delete a domain name, if they do not like the content that they see.  It is like your physical address can be changed, and you are no longer able to verify who you are or where you live.  But instead of being able to go to the United State Postal Service, you have to go to a not-for-profit organization which seems presently, in my opinion, to have fluid policies based on a bottom up approach of everyone having a voice. They literally control the world that we know.  And today, the Internet as we know it will forever be different.

More than ever, you need to stay safely Connected.

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