With last Friday’s late afternoon announcement that the Obama Administration plans to relinquish U.S. accountability measures over ICANN, the organization that administers the Internet, there are now serious concerns that the United Nations, or individual foreign governments, or some new multinational organization will obtain control of the Internet. No good can come of this. There is nothing wrong with the Internet that can be cured by handing over control of it to the likes of Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, or Hassan Rouhani.
We commend the House Energy and Commerce Committee for quickly announcing that it will hold hearings. We urge the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation to do the same. It is important that the Internet continue to be a governed by principles that include free speech and press and the rule of law. If America leaves a vacuum on Internet governance questions, that vacuum will be filled by people like Putin who have zero commitment to free speech or press or to the rule of law.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a California based-nonprofit, has made no secret of its desire to move its operations to Europe and to be free of any formal accountability to the United States. What is even more troubling is that the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has signaled that it shares ICANN’s agenda.
Some have tried to argue that this is simply the U.S. government privatizing Internet governance. But that is laughable. Giving away control of the Internet to a UN-like organization or to those despots in the world clamoring to exert more control over the Internet is hardly a move toward smaller, more accountable government. This move is about the US government giving the Internet to even bigger and more invasive government — either the UN or a UN-like organization — or worse yet, an unsavory collection of world leaders with a desire to seize control of the Internet like Russia’s Putin. No good will come of this.
The Internet is a uniquely American invention that has revolutionized almost every aspect of life around the globe. What began as a system designed for the United States military to maintain worldwide communications in the event of a nuclear war has become a benefit to everyone in the critical arenas of commerce, science, healthcare, research, finance, and education, to name only a few. Few realize that approximately 90% of the commerce that takes place on the Internet involves the U.S. Quite frankly, we cannot endanger this sector of our economy to satisfy the avarice and ambition of a few irresponsible international voices.
One reason for this continued success is that the Internet remains, fundamentally, a U.S. operation. Each country can set its own rules to some degree and there are international and commercial actors involved but, in the main, it is a place where freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of information – core American values that are antithetical to life in many parts of the world – are paramount. These values will not be maintained by the likes of Putin, Kim Jong Un or Rouhani.
The Administration seems willing to give away the Internet to international voices — many of whom are founding members of the blame-America-first-crowd — in hopes that it will provide some relief from those angry with America’s international spying. Yet, this will only harm U.S. interests. Whatever spying the U.S. does in the future will not be aided or limited by whether the U.S. maintains basic accountability measures over the Internet. Giving away the Internet has nothing to do with spying and the two are only connected by cynical international voices hoping to push the Administration into acting against our national interest in hopes of currying favor with America’s critics. In effect, they are suggesting that if we give them control of the Internet, they will forgive us for past spying on them. Sadly, it appears this absurd and cynical strategy has convinced the Administration to simply give away the Internet to an unaccountable international body.
It is totally unacceptable for the Obama Administration or for that matter any administration to surrender control of the Internet to anyone, be it a global organization like the U.N. or the ITU or to a nonprofit group like ICANN with an unaccountable, self-perpetuating leadership. We strongly urge Congress to look into this matter to insure that the White House is not in fact allowing control of the Internet to slip out of U.S. hands and to let it be controlled by anything other than U.S. values – freedom being among the most important.