Al Gore may not have invented the internet, but his government is responsible for managing it! For more than 20 years, a little-known nonprofit called ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has been at the controls of the web’s domain and IP addresses. Overseen by the Commerce Department, this private west coast office has been an international hub for maintaining one of the most important aspects of the internet.
That’s about to change, according to the Obama administration. Larry Strickling, U.S. government’s assistant secretary for communications and information has announced that the government is moving the American-controlled internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions to the global ICANN. As one tech expert said, “That sentence may not mean a whole lot to many people, but this move is of huge global significance in how the internet is managed and governed.” By letting go of this contract, there’s a very real fear that the U.S. is giving up its stake of control in how the web functions. Much of that responsibility lies with the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which is a global group that keeps the web, as Ed Vaizey writes, “from being controlled by one organization, or dominated by a few special interests.”
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems. In a global neighborhood, there are always going to be countries who disagree with the U.S. on fundamental values like religious liberty or free speech. And in recent years, some of those nations have lobbied to put the internet under U.N. control. Before the president hands over the keys to the U.N. or anyone else, Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) are doing everything they can to stop him. Both chairmen expressed their concern in a pointed letter to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), calling the idea of an “internet hand-off” “misguided or, at the very least, premature.”
Despite the administration’s guarantees, the frustrated duo write, “under the current proposal, the power of foreign governments would be significantly increased.” Senator Cruz agrees, and sounded the alarm in a speech to the Heritage Foundation this summer. “Right now, the Obama administration’s proposal to give away the internet is an extraordinary threat to our freedom, and its’ one that many Americans don’t know anything about.” Just think about what countries like China, Russia, or Iran would do with their hands on the world’s most powerful communication tool. Not onlyk would they censor speech (as they’ve done in their own nations), but others would use this newfound power to eradicate so-called “hate speech,” a term — he warned — with a definition that “can be very, very malleable.” “We are facing a very real possibility of speech being censored in the name of ‘hate speech.’ It is hate to express a view different from whatever the prevailing orthodoxy of the government is.”
And that isn’t just Senator Cruz’s view. It’s the admission of Larry Strickling himself. In a hearing Wednesday, Senator Cruz asked point blank what this move would mean for the future of American freedom. “Just to clarify your answer to the question, if the [internet] transition goes forward… the U.S. would be on the very same footing as would Russia or Iran or China?” Stricking replied, “That’s correct.” Then the Texas senator turned to ICANN CEO Goran Marby. “Is ICANN bound by the First Amendment?” he asked. “To my understanding,” Marby said, “no.”
More than 100 conservative leaders are trying to fight the administration’s outrageous internet giveaway. The Conservative Action Project (of which FRC is a part) has been fierce in its opposition, explaining in a Memo to the Movement that “Perhaps none of Mr. Obama’s actions during his two terms will do as irreparable damage to our national security as his transferring the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority functions to the foreign government-controlled [ICANN].” Desperate to derail the move, Senator Cruz has introduced a bill called the Protecting Internet Freedom Act, aimed at stopping the NTIA from letting the key contracts expire. “It will also,” the group reminds people, “ensure that the United States maintains sole ownership of the .gov and .mil top-level domains, which are vital to national security.” Obviously, the internet doesn’t belong to America. But America plays a crucial role in ensuring that it’s an avenue for human rights, free speech, and transparency. Help us keep it that way! Contact your senators and ask them to support the Protecting Internet Freedom Act today!
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