There is much misinformation on the Internet about, well, the Internet itself, who controls it and how President Obama could possibly be giving away control over it. What is the truth? It’s important that we look at the facts, and both sides of the argument.
Is Obama giving away American control of the Internet?
First, let’s simplify the “Internet control” issue.
How is the government involved?
The US Department of Commerce has an agency called the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). This agency maintains stewardship over the internet’s addressing system, known as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). IANA controls domain names and IP addresses. They do not have anything to do with the content put on websites, or have any ability of censorship. It is at a much higher level, assigning the names and numbers of domains only.
Did you ever wonder who came up with and assigns those “.com,” ”.info,” “.gov” addresses? That’s IANA. When you buy a domain name for your business you may well see this agency’s name in the fees you pay.
The transfer from U.S. government oversight to a private global group of Internet industry leaders was promised to take place as early as 1998. In 2014 the U.S. Commerce Department asked a global private group, current heads of the internet industry, to make a plan to transition the oversight of domain names and IP addresses (IANA) to a private global group.
Who is control going to?
The coordination and managment of the assigned names and number will, with the transfer, be privatized and in the hands of a "volunteer based multi-stakeholder community." The industry coordianted non-profit group based in Los Angeles is called ICANN, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
It is important to note that this is not the United Nations, nor is any other government involved. Members of ICANN are the major private internet infrastructure related corporations such as Microsoft, Dell, Cisco, GoDaddy, Apple, Google and more.
Many of the Internet Industry Councils, groups of large companies that are in the high levels of the Internet business, described the transition this way in a letter to Congress on September 13, 2016;
“On October 1st, 2016, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) plans to end its stewardship of the Internet’s addressing system, known as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). This authority would then shift to the global Internet community, through the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a private sector led, multi-stakeholder organization to coordinate Internet addresses.”
They go on to say that all of the companies and trade associations they represent, thousands of companies, believed that the transition to ICANN of the oversight of the domain and numbers should go forward without delay October 1st.
“We believe that this important proposal will assure the continuing security, stability and resiliency of this system. Furthermore, crucial safeguards are in place to protect human rights, including the freedom of speech. We are confident that the proposal goes above and beyond the criteria set out by the Commerce Department two years ago to protect Americans.”
The heads of Google, Intel, Facebook, Microsoft, Go Daddy, US Council for International Business, Chamber of Commerce and scores of other internet industry leaders agreed and supported the move. In one letter issued to Congress they stated;
“The U.S. government’s 2014 call for a plan to transition the stewardship of the IANA functions to the global multi-stakeholder community was an important step toward ensuring that no one entity can exert undue influence or control over the Internet. We commend the international Internet community for coming together in response to that call to develop a workable plan.”
Attempts to stop the transfer-
Senator Ted Cruz disagrees with global privatized oversight and fears that ICANN will come under the influence of those who do not appreciate our freedom of speech. Usually Senator Cruz is on the side of privatization and away from government control, but he has taken the opposite approach in this case.
In a hearing Senator Cruz expressed his concern over the global technology companies' willingness to protect free speech. The head of the NTIA, Lawrence Strickling, testified before the Senate and was grilled by Senator Cruz. Strickling tried to explain that the content of websites has nothing to do with the domain names registrations or numbers assigned, which is what the transfer involves. The content of websites is overseen by website developer companies that are several levels, several companies, below the domain assignments.
But Senator Cruz made a great point. He pointed out that some of the companies, like Facebook, had made contractual agreements with the European Union that they would not allow “hate speech” and that Facebook had recently come under fire because they were silencing conservative voices and promoting progressive agenda posts.
Cruz has a legitimate fear. If these global companies come under the influence of leftist progressive political agenda, will it not endanger the freedom of speech, or the freedom of websites of the opposite opinions to even exist?
Strickland's argument to Congress is is that IANA only has to do with high level number domain addresses and nothing to do with content. The content is controlled several levels down by the actual hosting companies and website content holders like Facebook.
It looks like those opposing the transfer have arrived late to the game. Or have they?
Congress did pass a provision in the 2016 Appropriations that no funds could be used to do this transfer in 2016. It must have been intended that this would preventing the transfer until the new Administration can review it.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016 (P.L. 114-113) prevents NTIA from relinquishing its contractual control over IANA in FY2016. Section 539 of P.L. 114-113 states the following:
(a) None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to relinquish the responsibility of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, during fiscal year 2016, with respect to Internet domain name system functions, including responsibility with respect to the authoritative root zone file and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority functions.
(b) Not withstanding any other law, subsection (a) of this section shall not apply in fiscal year 2017.
A last minute lawsuit was filed by four state Attorney Generals. According to Politico, the Attorneys General for Arizona, Oklahoma, Nevada and Texas contend that the transition, lacking congressional approval, amounts to an illegal giveaway of U.S. government property. They also express fear that the proposed new steward of the system, a nonprofit known as ICANN, would be so unchecked that it could “effectively enable or prohibit speech on the Internet.”
On Friday September 30 a Federal Judge rejected the lawsuit. According to an Arizona business journal, in their filings, the federal attorneys called the Attorney General’s fear of harm "speculative at best and rests entirely on hypothetical future actions of third parties.'' And the government's lawyers said the complaint Arizona Attorney General Brnovich filed on behalf of himself and attorneys general from three other states "is full of 'coulds' and 'mays,' as they cannot identify a single specific and real harm that will befall them.''
The transfer of oversight of the assigned names and numbers of the internet is now in process.
ICANN issued a statement on October 1st;
“The contract between the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the United States Department of Commerce National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), to perform the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions, has officially expired. This historic moment marks the transition of the coordination and management of the Internet’s unique identifiers to the private-sector, a process that has been committed to and underway since 1998.”
It appears the fight is over. Conservatives are concerned that this is the beginning of the end of free speech on the internet. Given the liberals leanings of the major corporations involved in our internet infrastructure, they may have legitimate concerns. But the content of websites is not affected by this transition.
In order to ensure true freedom of speech on the global internet, conservatives will have to become vocal stockholders of these companies and become captains of industry themselves.
Most importantly, conservatives and Christians must be more politically involved and vote in the November election for the candidate that will secure the Supreme Court for religious freedom.