ICANN still wants a huge gift of taxpayer property worth billions and will savage free speech if it gets its way.
Earlier this month, Sweden’s Goran Marby was named the new head of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit organization established by Congress to manage Internet addresses. Marby replaces Fadi Chehadé, who for several years has been trying to move ICANN out of the US and into the hands of a UN-like international governing body. Marby has pledged to continue this effort.
The Obama Administration has set September 30, 2016 as the deadline for turning ICANN over to an unspecified UN-like international group. ICANN has worked eagerly to build support for the transfer. It isn’t hard to understand why. The contract between the Department of Commerce and ICANN provides that “all deliverables provided under this contract become the property of the U.S. Government.” That property is worth billions and ICANN would love to receive it free and clear with no accountability. Who wouldn’t?
But the Property Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article IV, Section 3), provides that Congress must pass legislation to transfer government property. Thus, despite the administration’s announced play to give away this valuable American asset, it does not have that power. Only Congress does. Nonetheless, Obama is undeterred and has vowed to move forward with the giveaway despite bipartisan congressional opposition.
Interestingly, Chehadé and Marby claim ICANN’s move will increase accountability and transparency. But it is hard to imagine any UN- like international group providing anything close to transparency or accountability.
The Internet was first launched 47 years ago by American computer scientists under a contract with the Department of Defense. Since 1998, the U.S. Department of Commerce has overseen ICANN which was set up by Congress to oversee the sale of websites names and the indexes and directories that make the Internet work. The answer to this problem is to renew ICANN’s management contract or to give the contract to some other capable party. But giving ICANN valuable American property and inviting the international community to step in and fill the vacuum is not a reasonable plan.
In opposition, Congress passed in a bipartisan vote, a measure that would prohibit the Administration from giving away the Internet. But the Administration has delayed its official decision to avoid this temporary budgetary provision. Meanwhile, ICANN has tried to minimize opposition stating that it will prohibit any governmental organization from exercising oversight. But this is meaningless. If a Russian, Chinese, North Korean or Iranian citizen is elected to the ICANN board, does anyone really believe these governments won’t exert control over their citizen’s vote?
The Internet has become a major force for free speech and expanding freedom around the globe. This modern miracle was made possible by American technology, American taxpayer funding, and America’s constitutional guarantee of free speech. Dictators, despots, oligarchs, and autocrats from around the globe are chomping at the bit to control the Internet. And ICANN’s plan does nothing serious to stop them. As Bill Clinton observed, “A lot of people who have been trying to take this authority away from the US want to do it for the sole purpose of cracking down on Internet freedom.” Imagine what news sites would be deemed “offensive to Russia’s Putin or Iran’s Rouhani. Most Americans — liberal and conservative — read news that would be deemed offensive by such voices.
Proponents of the Internet give away, minimize these issues and say it is just a public relations move that won’t make any real difference. They tout a new “multi-stakeholder” model and use soothing terms like “bottom-up” and “consensus” that suggest everyone will work together for the greater good. But what they haven’t demonstrated is how an independent ICANN will remain independent of the Chinese, Russians, North Koreans, Iranians and others around the globe who are unfriendly to democratic values and have used violence to silence their political opposition.
The US shares the Internet with the rest of the world, but America should not be willing to give it away to the world’s dictators. As long as the Internet is accountable to the American public through its government and bound by the U.S. Constitution, the Internet will continue to be a modern miracle of freedom. We need every Representative and Senator in Congress to stand up for the American public and for free speech and guaranty that the Internet does not slowly become just one more technology controlled by despots.