‘The Internet belongs to no-one’

Communications Minister, Ivy Matesepe-Casaburri, tried to reassure critics on Friday that she had no intention of controlling electronic commerce in South Africa through powers granted to her in the controversial e-commerce bill.

Speaking during a debate on the Electronic Communications and Transactions Bill, she acknowledged private sector reservations about the powers outlined in the bill.

”Today I wish to assure all South Africans there is no intention whatsoever to control the use of electronic commerce in the country as only the issues pertaining to security and the promotion of universal access have been delegated to the minister.”

While e-commerce required flexible legislation, it was the responsibility of the government of the day to ensure that transactions were conducted in a secure environment, Matsepe-Casaburri said.

”At the same time, government has an inalienable mandate to create the necessary conditions for the majority of our citizens particularly the poorest of the poor to participate in e-commerce.”

On the controversy around the establishment of a domain name agency, Matsepe-Casaburri said the involvement of all stakeholders in the control and the management of countries domain names was something that was being considered across the globe.

In February 2002, Stuart Lynn of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) – the global agency responsible for the management of the world’s domain names – called for a complete review of the current system of domain name governance.

According to Lynn, the current approach, which excluded governments and other key players, was not working, Matsepe-Casaburri said. To reform the current system Lynn proposed that a new model of public-private partnerships be adopted, lest the internet community remain isolated.

”In line with this thinking from ICANN, we have proposed that to ensure the effective management of the country’s domain names we should establish a Section 21 Domain Name Agency,” said Matsepe-Casaburri.

A board of directors comprising representatives of various stakeholders – government, private sector, academia, community, and so on – would be appointed to oversee the work of the agency.

”As South Africans we must therefore consider ourselves fortunate because we have been able to proactively hatch an inclusive mechanism for domain name governance as outlined in this Bill,” Matsepe-Casaburri said.

However, Mike Lawrie, the current administrator of dotza internet sites, says government control could lead to a ”national disaster”.

”The Bill, as I understand the current draft, is unacceptable to many of the Internet community, giving very wide powers over the domain namespace to a Minister of government.”

”The Bill, when it becomes an Act, will prevent me from administering the domain, so I will have to remove the domain from the computer that has

the definitive pointers for all of the subdomains of ZA (for example co.za, gov.za, mil.za, ac.za, law.za and so on),” said Lawrie.

This essentially means that throughout the Internet, when someone types in an URL that has a ‘.za’ on the end, the response will be ‘nonexistent host’, said Lawrie.

”All ZA hosts will become invisible to the Internet,” says Lawrie who calls this a ”potential crisis”.

Lawrie says he would prefer ”government involvement, not control” of the administration and has made this clear to the PCC (Portfolio Committee on Communications).

Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee of Communications, Nkenke Kekana, said that government has a responsibility to provide certain levels of security on the Internet.

”We need a minimum standard of security for critical databases,” said Kekana.

Kekana said the goal is to recreate what we feel safe about in the normal environment, in cyberspace.

”We need to create a structure that will be accountable and representative. The Internet belongs to no-one,” he said. – Sapa

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