Congressional Republicans, led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, are working to add a rider to a must-pass spending bill that will stave off the Obama administration’s scheduled transfer of government oversight over crucial internet functions to a multinational private organization.
If successful, the move would prevent the scheduled Oct. 1 transfer of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
Critics of the move argue that freeing ICANN and IANA from DOC oversight would inevitably open them up to influence by potentially hostile or authoritarian regimes.
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The IANA is responsible for allocation of thing like global IP addresses, AS numbers, DNS root zones — it is effectively the internet’s master directory of all numbers relating to Internet Protocol.
“If the Obama administration hands control of the internet over to this international organization, it’s not like the next president can magically snap his or her fingers and bring it back,” Cruz said in a speech earlier this month. “Unscrambling those eggs may well not be possible.”
Donald Trump praised congressional Republicans’ efforts on Wednesday. “Donald J. Trump is committed to preserving internet freedom for the American people and citizens all over the world,” his campaign said in an official statement.
“The U.S. should not turn control of the internet over to the United Nations and the international community. President Obama intends to do so on his own authority – just 10 days from now, on Oct. 1, unless Congress acts quickly to stop him,” the statement continued.
South Dakota Sen. John Thune told reporters Wednesday that he is “pretty confident” that language preventing the transition of IANA oversight will be included in the text of the spending bill.
The transfer of IANA oversight from the Department of Commerce to ICANN is part of the wider process of ICANN itself becoming independent from DOC oversight, which was announced in March 2016. ICANN currently manages IANA on contract with the U.S. government.
Critics of the move argue that freeing ICANN and IANA from DOC oversight would inevitably open them up to influence by potentially hostile or authoritarian regimes, and threaten internet freedom.
“Is ICANN bound by the First Amendment?” Cruz asked ICANN CEO and President Goran Marby at a hearing last week. “To my understanding, no,” Marby replied.
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The crucial issue is the fact that in acting as an extension of the government, ICANN has an antitrust exemption — a fact the transfer ignores.
In August, Americans for Limited Government received a response from the government after filing a Freedom of Information Act request demanding “all records relating to legal and policy analysis … concerning antitrust issues for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.” There were none.
As L. Gordon Crovitz explained in The Wall Street Journal at the time, “the reason ICANN can operate the entire World Wide Web root zone is that it has the status of a legal monopolist, stemming from its contract with the Commerce Department that makes ICANN an ‘instrumentality’ of government.”
Removing that protection would likely result in ICANN’s seeking to obtain it by some other means. Explains Crovitz: “Antitrust rules don’t apply to governments or organizations operating under government control.”
“Without the U.S. contract, ICANN would seek to be overseen by another governmental group so as to keep its antitrust exemption,” Crovitz writes.” Authoritarian regimes have already proposed ICANN become part of the U.N. to make it easier for them to censor the internet globally.”
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“So much for the Obama pledge that the U.S. would never be replaced by a ‘government-led or an intergovernmental organization solution,'” Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning said in an official statement released last week.
“Congress has a very specific choice. Are members going to allow President Obama to give away the internet to a cabal of multinational corporations, creating an unaccountable global monopoly over Internet functions?” Americans for Limited Government Senior Editor Robert Romano asked. “Or are they going to stick up for the interests of the American people and maintain U.S. oversight over the internet’s domain name system?”