The Obama administration has announced that it intends to “transition key Internet domain name functions to the global multi-stakeholder community.” Specifically, the Commerce Department has asked a non-governmental group known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to develop with such “stakeholders” a proposal to transition the current role played by the U.S. government’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in the coordination of what has been called the Internet’s direction and traffic signals system – the Domain Name System (DNS).
The United States has managed the Internet for the benefit of the whole world since it created first the DARPANet and then the World Wide Web. There is no good reason for abandoning what remains of that role – especially in favor of what is virtually certain to be a vastly inferior management arrangement.
For example, NTIA’s administrator Lawrence Strickling has asserted that this transition “must have broad community support” from both Internet users, governments and companies. He also claimed that the forthcoming governance model has to “maintain the security, stability and resiliency of the Internet Domain Name System.”
Unfortunately, it is not clear precisely how the U.S government will be able to ensure such outcomes having already announced that it is terminating the present arrangement. Businesses and non-governmental organizations that have endorsed this initiative with the caveat that they expect these conditions to eventuate are either kidding themselves or deceiving the rest of us.
That is especially so given that it is a safe bet ICANN will fall under the effective, if not the formal, control of the United Nation’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Should that happen, neither the security, stability nor resiliency of the Internet’s Domain Name System can be assured. Indeed, this sort of arrangement has long been demanded by such enemies of freedom and free expression as: the governments of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran; multi-national groups like the Organization of Islamic Cooperation; and the UN bureaucracy.
As former senior State Department official Christian Whiton has observed, there are predictable consequences to having the “directory and traffic signals of the Internet” come under the control of such hostile forces, including the following:
- Greater control over the content of the Internet, including censorship, by governments who regard it as a threat to their holds on power.
- Impediments to technological innovation as bureaucrats and hostile governments seek to dictate what can and cannot be done with the net.
- UN taxation of domain name registrations and, in due course, other Internet transactions. Such international taxation will make the United Nations even less accountable and afford it the latitude to fund activities detrimental to U.S. interests and those of its allies.
- Control of the Internet can allow it to be used as an instrument of warfare. While the United States has refrained from making such use, allowing actual or potentially hostile powers to exercise such control may mean the Internet is simply disabled at a critical moment, or perhaps employed against us.
Some have compared this surrender of what has been, as a practical matter, an American asset to President Carter’s decision to give-away of the Panama Canal. The difference is that at the time the Canal was given away, we could not be sure it would wind up in unfriendly hands (although it was predictable and predicted that it would, and the Chinese have proved us right). But in this case, we have every reason to believe — despite the administration’s obscuring of who will take over from us — that the internet will wind up under the thumb of our enemies.
Congress must oppose this latest example of the Obama Doctrine – diminishing our country, emboldening our enemies and undermining our friends. Tell your representative to act to keep the Internet an instrument of freedom and technological innovation.