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EU looks to lessen US control over Internet

Updated: 2014-02-14 07:02
By John O'Donnell in Brussels ( China Daily)

The European Commission called on Wednesday for a dilution of US influence over the organization of the Internet, a sign of tension following snooping exposed by former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden.

The European Union's executive arm demanded transparency and less influence of the United States over the institutions controlling the mechanics of the Internet, such as assigning Web page addresses that allow computers to locate one another on the network.

Currently, ICANN, a California-based organization operating under a contract with the US government, oversees the introduction of new Internet addresses.

In the coming years, hundreds of new so-called top-level domain addresses, such as .london or .sex, will be added, offering newcomers more choice of location online as Web usage grows.

"Europe must contribute to a credible way forward for global Internet governance," said Neelie Kroes, the commissioner in charge of telecoms policy. "Europe must play a strong role in defining what the Net of the future looks like."

She backed a "multistakeholder" approach to governance, supported by the US and industry, under which nongovernmental organizations, countries, academics and the private sector collaborate on the network's functioning.

The success of Kroes in pushing for a greater say will depend on the degree to which the alliance of 28 countries in the EU supports such a push.

"The US government welcomes the strong and continued commitment of the European Commission to the multistakeholder model of Internet governance," Lawrence Strickling, US assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information, said in a statement.

"We will work with the commission and other Internet stakeholders to make multistakeholder governance more inclusive, especially to support the engagement of countries in the developing world."

Allegations of vast US spying programs have complicated EU-US ties at a delicate moment in transatlantic relations, as Brussels and Washington are negotiating a free-trade pact that would encompass almost half the world's economy.

Lawmakers in the European Parliament threatened on Wednesday to withhold their consent for the trade pact over data privacy concerns.

A committee said data protection rules should be excluded from the trade talks and negotiated separately with the US, adding that "the fight against terrorism can never be a justification for untargeted, secret or even illegal mass surveillance programs".

Europe's resolve on Internet governance will be tested at a series of major conferences this year, including one in April in Brazil, which has emerged as a major critic of international surveillance carried out by the US National Security Agency.

Late last year, the EU backed down from threats to suspend agreements granting the United States access to European data, rejecting calls for a tougher stance over alleged US spying.

"Governments already have a significant role within ICANN and it will be enhanced in the future," said Nigel Hickson, ICANN vice-president for Europe. "This internationalization was in train before Snowden."