The US government, much to the chagrin of Senator Ted Cruz, is set to officially relinquish the Department of Commerce’s oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) as of tomorrow night at midnight. ICANN is a California nonprofit that has supervised website domains since 1998, essentially under subcontract from the Commerce Department. Under the Obama transition plan oversight by the U.S. Commerce Department would end and be replaced by a multi-stakeholder community, which would include the technical community, businesses, civil society and governments.
Cruz had attempted to block the internet transition by tying the recently passed funding bill to the reversal of the ICANN turnover. That said, apparently his harsh admonishments on the Senate floor failed to draw enough support from his fellow republicans to force a government shutdown over the topic.
“In 22 short days, if Congress fails to act, the Obama administration intends to give away control of the Internet to an international body akin to the United Nations,” Sen. Cruz said. “I rise today to discuss the significant, irreparable damage this proposed Internet giveaway could wreak not only on our nation, but on free speech across the world.”
“The Obama administration is instead pushing through a radical proposal to take control of Internet domain names and instead give it to an international organization, ICANN, that includes 162 foreign countries. And if that proposal goes through, it will empower countries like Russia, like China, like Iran to be able to censor speech on the Internet, your speech. Countries like China, Russia, and Iran are not our friends, and their interests are not our interests.
“Imagine searching the Internet and instead of seeing your standard search results, you see a disclaimer that the information you were searching for is censored. It is not consistent with the standards of this new international body, it does not meet their approval. Now, if you’re in China, that situation could well come with the threat of arrest for daring to merely search for such a thing that didn’t meet the approval of the censors. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen in America, but giving control of the Internet to an international body with Russia, and China, and Iran having power over it could lead to precisely that threat, and it’s going to take Congress acting affirmatively to stop it.
Supporters of the plan counter that critics’ harsh rhetoric fails to recognize that ICANN will be turned over to management by an independent board with representation from all over the world with no single body holding undue influence over decisions. According to Yahoo, the transition has drawn support from Google and several democrat senators who commented to TechCrunch that “the internet belongs to the world, not to Ted Cruz.”
“The transition will further strengthen the internet as a stable, resilient and secure tool for empowering billions of people across the globe for decades to come.”
Google senior vice president Kent Walker also endorsed the shift, saying it would “fulfill a promise the United States made almost two decades ago: that the internet could and should be governed by everyone with a stake in its continued growth.”
“The internet belongs to the world, not to Ted Cruz,” Senators Brian Schatz and Chris Coons, and Representatives Anna Eshoo, Doris Matsui, Frank Pallone and Mike Doyle said in an article for the TechCrunch news site.
“If the Republicans successfully delay the transition, America’s enemies are sure to pounce. Russia and its allies could push to shift control of the internet’s core functions to a government body like the UN where they have more influence.”
But, in a last ditch effort to block the transition, 4 state attorneys general from Arizona, Oklahoma, Nevada and Texas, have filed a lawsuit in a Texas federal court alleging that the transition, in the absence of congressional approval, amounts to an illegal forfeiture of U.S. government property. According to Politico, the lawsuit also expresses concern that the reorganized ICANN would be so unchecked that it could “effectively enable or prohibit speech on the Internet.”
“Trusting authoritarian regimes to ensure the continued freedom of the internet is lunacy,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a statement. “The president does not have the authority to simply give away America’s pioneering role in ensuring that the internet remains a place where free expression can flourish.”
“I think, as a matter of philosophy, turning this over ultimately is maybe a great idea in the long run,” the attorney general said, “but I do think there are a lot of stakeholders involved, and we want to make sure no one in the future can limit or suppress access to the internet or punish people for speaking their minds.”
Given Obama’s recent humiliating loss on the 9/11 lawsuit bill, we’re sure that efforts to block his internet transition plan will draw some attention at the White House.