SAN FRANCISCO -- Amid growing international concern over U.S. control of the Internet, the federal government plans to relinquish control of policy making for the Web to the "global Internet community."
The U.S. Commerce Department said Friday that it has asked the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers to bring together interested groups from around the world to come up with a plan to transition oversight of the Web.
Governments have complained that the United States had too much influence over the Internet, particularly in light of revelations of online surveillance by the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies.
The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, last month suggested establishing "a clear timeline" for global control of ICANN, which is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit.
ICANN said it will kick off the process of transitioning to a new oversight body at an international meeting scheduled for March 24 in Singapore.
The contract with ICANN is set to expire in September 2015 but could be extended if a transition plan has not been chosen.
U.S. officials say any new oversight body must consist of a broad cross-section of stakeholders from around the globe and operate independently from government influence. They have warned that allowing the United Nations to oversee Web policy could lead to increased censorship in countries such as China and Russia.
"We will not accept a proposal that replaces the [U.S.] role with a government-led or an intergovernmental solution," said Lawrence E. Strickling, assistant secretary of Commerce for communications and information.
He also said the new body must preserve the openness, security and stability of the Web.
An official with the Commerce Department denied that the move was prompted by the damaging disclosures made by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. He said the relationship between the Commerce Department and ICANN was always intended to be temporary.
ICANN is responsible for assigning Internet domains such as .com, .biz, .edu and .gov. It's in the process of adding hundreds of new domains.
"We thank the U.S. government for its stewardship, for its guidance over the years, and we thank them today for trusting the global community to replace their stewardship with the appropriate accountability mechanisms," ICANN President Fadi Chehade said.