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Congress to examine officials of Internet domain name company

Updated:
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Congress is taking a look at the California company that administers Internet addresses after critics said it is too slow to address security holes and should be more closely regulated.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, governs the system that translates common Web site addresses into strings of numbers understood by computers.

Testimony prepared for a Senate committee hearing Wednesday, and obtained by The Associated Press, says the Commerce Department has not taken a strong enough role in overseeing the company.

The department's public comments have been ``general in nature and infrequent,'' and there were no detailed minutes of meetings between the company and federal officials, according to remarks prepared by the General Accounting Office, the investigative branch of Congress, for the Senate Commerce subcommittee on science and technology.

``ICANN's legitimacy and effectiveness as the private sector manager of the domain name system (remains) in question,'' the GAO said.

Stuart Lynn, who next year plans to step down as the company's president, defended his group.

``ICANN has been very successful by any real measure of what success is,'' he said. Lynn said the Commerce Department already has ``tremendous oversight'' over the company's work.

Several months ago, Lynn announced plans for a reorganization that would remove the company's elected board members, but it has not been approved.

Assistant Commerce Secretary Nancy Victory is to testify as well. Her spokesman declined to answer questions before the hearing.

Criticism of the Internet domain name overseer prompted Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., to threaten legislation linking its future to a complete reorganization.

``ICANN has clearly exceeded its authority and mutated into a supranational regulatory body lacking oversight,'' said Burns, the panel's top Republican. ``Clearly, this legislation needs to be happen as soon as possible and should be crafted with an eye to giving the U.S. a greater oversight role.''

Andy Davis, a spokesman for Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., the Commerce Committee chairman, cautioned that Hollings has not taken a position on the company's fate and characterized the hearing as ``the big first step'' in the debate.

Congress held a similar hearing last year, but Wednesday's will be the first held after Democrats gained control of the Senate.

ICANN gained control of the Internet's domain name system through a 1998 agreement with the Commerce Department. But the deal was only supposed to be a transition, and control was supposed to be ceded to another private company or organization in 2000. ICANN has been fraught with infighting and delays, and the deal was extended to September of this year.

The company has governed the creation of new domain names, such as .info and .name, and created more competition in domain name sales.

It was supposed to develop security policies to protect the 13 ``root servers'' that are the heart of the Internet's domain system. These servers, positioned all over the world, serve as central directories so that every Web user can find addresses like microsoft.com and whitehouse.gov. If those servers were somehow knocked offline or attacked by hackers or terrorists, entire swaths of the Internet would be unreachable to most people.

The General Accounting Office noted that the company created a committee to enhance root-server security, but a report is overdue. Lynn said the root-server system was designed for backup protection.

``Security was important to the root servers long before 9-11,'' Lynn said.
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