Internet Governance: Who Controls the Internet?
The Internet has no owner and no official government. A number of different groups deal with the networks and domain names, but no one really controls it. Of course, governments can censor or stifle the Internet if they choose.
ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, oversees domain names and IP addresses. For example, ICANN decided that each country should have a two letter top-level domain. ICANN is a non-profit.
IANA decides who gets which IP addresses. IANA is the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority. IANA designates IP addresses by assigning numbers to Regional Internet Industries, or RIRs. The RIRs then send the numbers to large Internet service providers, including ARIN (American Registry for Internet Numbers). LACNIC (Latin American and Caribbean Internet Registry) and so forth. There are five organizations in total, and they call themselves a Number Resource Organization (NRO).
IANA also deals with the IETF, the Internet Engineering Task Force, to work out the protocols (such as http). The IETF is a part of the Internet Society (ISOC), which oversees the Internet Architecture Board (IAB). The IAB was previously called the Internet Advisory Board (1984) and later the Internet Activities Board (1986), until acquiring its most recent name in 1992. At this point the IAB became an non-US government entity, and was turned into a public, international organization.
So what happens when there’s a legal issue on the Internet? It’s up to the government of the individual nation. However, the global nature of the web makes governance more difficult. Sometimes the Internet makes it into the courtroom, as was the case with the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 (to control non-solicited pornography and marketing) and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (regulating the privacy of emails). Both of these laws were meant to protect Internet users. There are a number of other issues on the Internet that sometimes call for attention, including email fraud, Internet crime, identity theft and Internet privacy issues. Because Internet conflicts will continue to arise, nations must learn to handle legal issues in the virtual world.