[Update: Apparently, calling the DNS “critical Internet infrastructure” got some in the IETF worried. One non-US based working group member warned his colleagues that attaching the label “critical infrastructure” to the DNS would raise flags among governments everywhere, who would have to be reassured that their “critical infrastructure” wasn't under the control of the US government, and may encourage discussion in venues like the Internet Governance Forum. So in its revised charter the IETF group avoided the term “critical infrastructure” and merely said that the DNS, which resolves billions of queries per day in support of global communications and commerce, “has a large installed user base and repertoire of protocol specifications” for which they are responsible. Yawn.]
In the process of drafting its revised charter (which came about because it is now largely finished with the DNSSEC standard), the IETF's DNS Extensions Working Group (DNSEXT) has identified the Domain Name System as “a critical Internet infrastructure.” Given that the DNS handles billions of queries mapping human readable domain names to IP adresses of network hosts daily, it only makes sense that it be considered critical to the function of the Internet. Without the DNS protocol, much of the value of the Internet to humans would not exist.
One can read the Working Group's action as an indication from the prominent Internet standards body that the DNS (and technology which impacts it like DNSSEC and root signing) is on the table for discussion at the upcoming Internet Governance Forum. The issue of examining “critical Internet resources” at the IGF (as called for in the Tunis Agenda, see paras 58, 70, 72) has led to much hand wringing. While many interests are perfectly happy if discussion of DNS issues remain within the confines of ICANN, the IGF's Markus Kummer received welcomed input from panelists at a recent workshop in San Juan exploring ICANN's role in relation to critical Internet resources. The Brazilian representative to the GAC invited ICANN to “participate in the discussions [at the IGF]…related to critical Internet resources” and that the planned session on Internet critical resources in Rio provided an excellent opportunity for ICANN to “report to the international community…on its role and activities.” Chris Disspain, the Chair of the Country Code Name Supporting Organization, agreed that the DNS was an important part of critical Internet resources and should be discussed at the Forum. So it appears there is growing pressure to open up the topics of discussion and make the IGF a truly valuable space.
On another note, the very fact that the DNSEXT Working Group is continuing its existence should be recognized. Typically, when activities are completed, or there is no longer interest in resolving the problem at hand, Working Groups disband. In the case of DNSEXT there remain some loose ends with DNSSEC. But more important is the influence the group will likely maintain in DNS protocol matters going forward. The proposed charter highlights the continued power the Working Group will hold as it seeks to “actively advance DNS protocol-related RFCs on the standards track, while defending against further extensions of the DNS that are of questionable value.” And importantly, the DNSEXT group will conduct reviews of any proposed Resource Records to be included in the DNS, something that largely determines what the DNS is and can be in the future.