The European Commission called on Wednesday for a dilution of U.S. influence over the organization of the Internet, a sign of tension following snooping exposed by former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden.
The European Union's executive arm stopped short of demanding greater government control as some countries like China and Russia have pushed for.
Instead it demanded transparency and less influence of the United States over the institutions controlling the mechanics of the Internet, such as assigning web page addresses that allow computers to locate one another on the network.
Currently, ICANN, a California-based organization operating under a contract with the U.S. government, oversees the introduction of new Internet addresses.
In the coming years, hundreds of new so-called top-level domain addresses such as .london or .sex will be added, offering newcomers more choice of location online as web usage grows.
“Europe must contribute to a credible way forward for global internet governance,” said Neelie Kroes, the commissioner in charge of telecoms policy. “Europe must play a strong role in defining what the net of the future looks like.”
She backed the "multi-stakeholder" approach to governance, supported by the United States and industry, under which non-governmental organizations, countries, academics and the private sector collaborate on the network's functioning.
The success of Kroes in pushing for a greater say will depend on the degree to which the alliance of 28 countries in the European Union supports such a push.
Test of resolve
Europe's resolve will be tested at a series of major conferences this year, including one in April in Brazil, which has emerged as a major critic of international surveillance carried out by the U.S. National Security Agency.
Late last year, the European Union backed down from threats to suspend agreements granting the United States access to European data, rejecting calls for a tougher stance over alleged U.S. spying.
“Governments already have a significant role within ICANN and it will be enhanced in the future,” said Nigel Hickson, ICANN vice president for Europe. “This internationalization was in train before Snowden.”
The move by the Commission came as lawmakers in the European Parliament prepared their response to the U.S. spying scandal.
It will vote on Wednesday to demand that more of the data gathered on the Internet is stored on computer servers in Europe to improve oversight, a largely symbolic move as the parliament cannot introduce such legislation alone.
The spying allegations have complicated EU-U.S. ties at a delicate moment in transatlantic relations, as Brussels and Washington are negotiating a free-trade pact that would encompass almost half the world's economy.