The only way to keep the Internet free
In yet another blow to US global leadership, the Obama administration is abdicating control of the Internet.
Countries that loathe freedom will gain more influence over what you’re able to see on the Web. Wake up, America: You’ve had unlimited access to information, but you could lose it.
The United States started the Internet and served as its guardian for many years, assuring that virtually any person or group, no matter how controversial, could add a Web site to the worldwide network. But on Oct. 1, the Obama administration surrendered US oversight to a multinational organization, ICANN — the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
ICANN will have sole power to grant Web addresses — or deny them, essentially banning sites from the Internet. If a site doesn’t have an address from ICANN, you won’t be able to find it.
Where are our presidential candidates on this? Donald Trump is warning that Obama’s policy threatens our freedom of expression and our national security. Hillary Clinton is falling in line with President Obama, just as she did with the Iran deal.
And the media are silent, distracting viewers with topics like green frogs, Skittles, birthers and beauty queens.
ICANN answers to a council that includes over 160 countries. The United States, no longer the referee, has only one vote. Just like China, which blocks tens of thousands of Web sites inimical to Communist Party dogma within its borders. And just like Iran, which censors political messages and photos of women not wearing mandatory Islamic dress.
The danger is that repressive regimes will outnumber free nations and impose censorship everywhere.
“Imagine an Internet run like many Middle Eastern countries that punish what they deem to be blasphemy,” warns Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). It could become impossible to get a Web address that advocates for gay or women’s rights, displays sexy lingerie or criticizes Shariah law …
Under the new arrangement, the United States loses power. No surprise, there. That’s Obama’s legacy: globalization and a reduction in US influence.
Opponents of the Obama giveaway are going to court to reverse the move. Last Friday, four states — Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma and Nevada — failed to get a federal court judge to delay the transfer. But expect more litigation ahead. Challenges will question the constitutionality of Obama handing over US government property without getting Congress’ consent.
The Internet was created by the United States a half century ago as a Defense Department project. Within 20 years, its influence spread worldwide, and President Bill Clinton established and funded ICANN to administer the technical side — allocating Web addresses, keeping a “yellow pages” of them and ensuring smooth, unhampered access to Web sites. ICANN reported to the Department of Commerce.
In recent years, hostile governments have pushed to make ICANN part of the United Nations. ICANN executives argue that “fairness” dictates giving all nations an equal role.
Obama believes keeping US control of the Internet would “embolden authoritarian regimes.” It’s a repeat of his foolish argument that calling out Islamic terrorists will incite them to perpetrate more attacks.
Nonsense, says Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). “These countries already fail to respect freedom of expression.”
In 2014, when Obama announced the deadline for the 2016 handover, Bill Clinton opposed it: “I just know that a lot of these so-called multi stakeholders are really governments that want to gag people and restrict access to the Internet.” Too bad Hillary doesn’t see that.
Disappointing yes, but not surprising coming from a former secretary of state who left her agency’s cybersecurity in shambles. Ceding control to ICANN will put all federal Web sites, even military and Homeland Security sites, under the thumb of this multinational organization — in that it has the power to rescind a .gov or .mil address. The only protection is a letter of agreement with ICANN that is not legally enforceable. Good luck with that.
Advocates for cybersecurity, strong national defense and First Amendment liberty all agree that ceding any control of the Internet to intolerant, anti-democratic nations is a dangerous leap into darkness.
Betsy McCaughey is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.