The internet significantly facilitates the exercise of human rights today — but it also offers unprecedented capacity for their interference. The companies and standard-setting bodies that manage the internet’s infrastructure have a direct impact on whether human rights are facilitated or restricted.
An important actor in this space is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an international non-profit organization incorporated to manage the Internet’s unique identifier systems. ICANN coordinates the directory linking website names with server numbers. This coordination of unique identifiers in the domain name system (DNS) allows people around the world to connect to the same global network.
Because the DNS is integral to the way users use and navigate the internet, the human rights aspects of ICANN’s policies are an important consideration. In light of this ICANN incorporated a policy commitment to respect internationally recognized human rights as part of its Core Values in 2016. The multistakeholder community subsequently developed a framework for interpreting this new bylaw, but it remains to be seen how it will be implemented in policy development and other decision-making processes.