· by Ray Fleming
ALTHOUGH the internet is a wondrous thing, greatly benefitting all those who seek knowledge and wish to communicate with the world at large, many people still do not know quite how it works or who owns it; this is understandable because no single organisation can claim ownership or determine how it should be run. Not everyone is happy with this slightly chaotic effective arrangement and at Tunis tomorrow some 15'000 internet experts will gather for the World Summit on the Information Society to consider whether rather more order is necessary for the internet's future. Insofar as there is any single regulating body for the internet this is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, known as Icann, which was brought into existence by the Clinton administration under the US Commerce Department to manage what is known as the Domain Name System which undertakes the essential task of allocating network names on request and ensuring that there is no duplication or overlap. The original intention was that Icann would become an independent organisation but last June the Bush administration unwisely said that it should remain under US oversight indefinitely. This week's Summit in Tunis will hear calls from the United Nations, the European Union and several Third World countries for Icann to be internationalised and for the operations of the internet as a whole to be the concern of a body such as the International Telecommunications Union. Such ideas are anathema to the American government and internet operators who believe that any change in the existing free-for-all regime would lead inevitably to attempts by some governments to assert political control over what is currently the greatest unrestricted interchange of information and ideas that the world has ever known. The United States found itself in the lead because much of the early work on the development of the internet took place there. Although there has been no suggestion of improper US influence on Icann or the internet as a whole, the Bush administration's foreign policy leaves some observers uneasy on this score. Perhaps what is needed is a UN-drafted charter for the internet which the US would undertake to observe in perpetuity.