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Carl Bildt, chair of the Global Commission on Internet Governance, listens during a conference in Ottawa on Wednesday.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

An elite international group dedicated to preserving the Internet's free and unfettered qualities is calling for more independent oversight of the body that performs many of the Web's core functions.

The Global Commission on Internet Governance, a 29-member independent body led by former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt, said Wednesday that the U.S. body that oversees the allocation and management of Internet addresses and the stable and secure operation of the Internet, known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), should be subject to an "independent and authoritative review" process. The review of disputed decisions should be handled by technical experts and jurists appointed through an "independent and transparent process," the group said. Disputed decisions are currently handled by an internal ICANN board governance committee.

The change is necessary "so that we can guarantee the functionality, the effectiveness, the independence and the transparency of the entire system," Mr. Bildt told reporters in Ottawa.

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The recommendation is one of several forwarded by the group – founded this year by two independent think tanks, the Waterloo, Ont.-based Centre for International Governance Innovation and Chatham House from the U.K. – in anticipation of a major shift in how the Internet is managed.

In March, the U.S. Department of Commerce, which has contracted California-based non-profit ICANN to administer the core functions of the Internet since 2000, announced that the government plans to relinquish the oversight role next September. However, it will only do so if its successor maintains the openness, security, stability and resiliency of the Internet, has broad community support and is not accountable to any government.

Mr. Bildt's commission said accountability provisions in the existing contracts with the U.S. government should be changed so that ICANN and a subordinate body are directly accountable to users of the service, not the U.S. government.

The commission's suggestions are "simple, elegant and doable" that would "meet the U.S. smell test," said Fen Osler Hampson, another commissioner and the former director of Carleton University's Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. "The international community wants greater oversight" over the Internet, he said, adding that the commission's proposal "strengthens transparency, accountability and legitimacy" of the management of core Internet functions.

The U.S. has faced growing pressure to cede its oversight role as the Net has become one of the most critical pieces of global infrastructure, driven in part by revelations that the U.S. has engaged in widespread cyberspying. Mr. Hampson warned that maintaining the status quo would spur a troubling trend toward the Balkanization of the Net, whereby different nations would increasingly build up virtual boundaries around their patches of cyberspace, creating a series of closed Internets subject to political control and restricted freedoms and impeding the growth of electronic commerce. Such restrictions have already emerged in China, Russia, Syria and Iran.

Some U.S. politicians, including former Republican speaker of the house Newt Gingrich, are opposed to the U.S. giving up its historic role, likening it to "giving away" the Internet, and they recommend that the U.S. should continue its existing arrangement if no alternative emerges to its liking. "There really has been a polarization on debate over the transition," Mr. Hampson said.

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