L'Edito du Numérique

Sovereignty and Domain Names [March28th, 2023]

Digital sovereignty is something that many of us have been talking about, and we have approached it mainly from the angle of the cloud and US extra-territorial laws. Of course we have also talked about sovereignty issues at the hardware level as well as at the middleware or software level.

However, it seems to me that there is a blind spot in our questions of digital sovereignty, and that is domain names. Indeed, the architecture of the web is based on the management of domain names.

The management of these Internet addresses is under the responsibility of a non-profit association, ICANN (Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers). It is a regulatory authority, which is an American company under Californian law with a non-profit purpose. Its main mission is to administer the Internet’s digital resources, such as IP addressing and top-level domain names, and to coordinate the various technical players (wikipedia).

ICANN was created on September 30, 1998 and is contractually bound to the US Department of Commerce and therefore to the US government… Sovereignty, did you say? This contract officially ends on September 30, 2009, however ICANN remains under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Commerce, even if the GAN (Governmental Advisatory Committee) is added to it, which gives a relative influence from other governments in the world.
It seems that since 2016 (October) the contract binding ICANN to the American Department of Commerce has not been renewed, so the organization would be free from the American government from now on.

However, let’s not forget that ICANN remains under American rights, with all the consequences that we can imagine…

The question that remains open for me, what sovereignty do we have when the assignment and administration of the Internet resources are not in the regalian field, including for the domain names in “.fr” since the organism in charge of their administration at the “local” level depends on it, directly or indirectly on the ICANN.

Shouldn’t we have an in-depth reflection on the architecture of the Internet and its administration?

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