NEW YORK — Americans’ right to free speech online might be threatened by the Obama administration’s decision to transfer U.S. authority over Internet addresses to an organization called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), critics say.
ICANN was set up by the Clinton Administration in 1998 to oversee the assignment of names and addresses on the World Wide Web. ICANN replaced the U.S. Defense Department, which created the Internet in the 1960s.
Until October 1 of this year, ICANN reported to the U.S. Commerce Department. But now it is only answerable to its stakeholders, according to The Washington Post. Those stakeholders consist of representatives of 164 national governments around the world in a set-up critics say is similar to the United Nations, with representatives from free countries but also from repressive regimes like China and Iran.
Under that arrangement, the repressive countries have the same amount of sway as does the United States.
“Our country faces a threat to the Internet as we know it,” U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said last month, days prior to the transfer. “… If Congress fails to act, the Obama administration intends to give away the Internet to an international body akin to the United Nations.”
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Cruz went further in a press release, stating that Obama “intends to give increased control of the Internet to authoritarian regimes like China, Russia and Iran.”
“Like Jimmy Carter gave away the Panama Canal, Obama is giving away the Internet.”
Critics like former Wall Street Journal publisher L. Gordon Crovitz charged in an August 28 op-ed that this means U.N. control of the Internet.
“But because of the administration’s naiveté or arrogance, U.N. control is the likely result if the U.S. gives up Internet stewardship,” Crovitz wrote.
U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) made similar arguments in a speech in the House, Politico reported.
“Think about this,” Blackburn said. “We cannot allow control for Russia or China over U.S. free speech.”
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Others, though, say an independent ICANN would actually increase freedom online.
“This is not a handover of control of the Internet to some U.N. body, as much as he [Cruz] tries to make it sound like ICANN, which is an American corporation registered in California, is some international body,” U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware) said. “It isn’t the U.N. or anything like it.”
Coons continued: “The way that China or Russia could have greater influence over the naming function of the Internet is if we delay this transition. Lose our credibility internationally that we do intend to privatize this function, and give them the leverage to make stronger arguments at the United Nations that the U.N. … should begin preparing to set up their own DNS function. I think there is a very small risk that this transition will lead to any increased role for any country, including those that censor the Internet in their own country.”
Still others fear that an independent ICANN would let giant companies like Alphabet, the owner of Google, dominate the net. Cybersecurity expert and ICANN advisor Garth Bruen told the Chicago Tribune that’s he afraid ICANN will be accountable to no one.
Attorneys General from Texas, Oklahoma, Nevada and Arizona filed suit to stop the transfer, but their effort ended when a federal judge in Galveston, Texas, threw out their request on September 30.
For better or worse, Uncle Sam has relinquished control of the Internet.
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