US Government Hands Internet's 'Address Book' to International Organization

Critics fear the transfer could lead to censorship.

— -- Oversight of the internet’s naming directory -- essentially the web’s address book -- will be transferred today from the U.S. government to an international nonprofit organization.

The transfer, which has been decades in the making, got its final greenlight on Friday night, when a federal judge in Texas denied a request by the attorneys general of four states for a temporary halt while a lawsuit played out.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will take full control of the Domain Name System (DNS), which it has managed the everyday operations of for years while still technically reporting to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The transfer will almost certainly go unnoticed by users, who rely on the DNS every day but who likely don’t even know of its existence.

We know our favorite websites by their names -- ABCNews.com, Facebook.com, YouTube.com.

But to computers and web-friendly devices, these names are just a human-friendly mask that conceals a website’s computer-friendly address on the web -- known as an IP Address.

For instance, this website, ABC News, is really http://68.71.222.15/. Google can be found at http://216.58.194.36/, and Facebook at http://157.240.3.35/. (Go ahead, try it!)

When you input a website’s name (called a Domain Name) into your internet browser, your computer needs to know where to go and retrieve the content that makes up the website you intend to visit.

It looks that up through the DNS.

Handing the reins from the Commerce Department to ICANN has drawn concerns from some Republican lawmakers in recent weeks.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was so alarmed by the transition that he attempted to have it blocked through a spending bill that was passed this week to keep the government funded beyond Friday. Ultimately, negotiators over the bill left out any language that would have blocked the transition.

Another notable critic of the transition is Donald Trump.

“The U.S. should not turn control of the Internet over to the United Nations and the international community. President Obama intends to do so on his own authority -- just 10 days from now, on October 1st, unless Congress acts quickly to stop him,” his campaign said in a statement earlier this month.

However, ICANN is not an organization under the umbrella of the U.N., and the transfer to ICANN actually comes as an alternative to some countries' desires to hand over authority of the DNS to U.N. organizations.

Many critics have raised fears that transition opens the door for authoritarian governments like China or Russia to censor, block or control content that’s on the internet.

However, because ICANN will only control the DNS, not the privately-owned servers where companies store the content of their websites, any greater risk of censorship seems unlikely, according to experts.

“Right now, there is nothing about ICANN or its contract with the U.S. Government that prevents a country from censoring or blocking content within its own borders,” according to the organization’s website. “ICANN is a technical organization and does not have the remit or ability to regulate content on the Internet.”

“Sovereign states regulate content on the Internet within their borders -- that is true now and will remain true after the transition. The regulation of content on the Internet has nothing to do with ICANN or the IANA functions,” the organization also stated.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.