By a vote of 229 to 178, the U.S. House of Representatives Friday moved to block the Obama administration from carrying through with plans to give up control of the Internet to a private corporation originally chartered by the federal government to oversee the domain name system.
Acting on an amendment to the Commerce, State, and Justice appropriations bill offered by Wisconsin Republican Rep. Sean Duffy, the House threw a monkey wrench into plans announced earlier this year by the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is part of the Department of Commerce, to end its contractual relationship with ICANN – the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – that guarantees the U.S. a say in how the global information and communications tool is managed.
The Duffy amendment, which most Democrats opposed, prohibits the National Telecommunications and Information Administration from putting appropriated fiscal year 2015 funds toward any effort to transition oversight of the Internet to ICANN.
The issue has created controversy ever since the Obama administration announced it would sever the government’s last remaining ties to ICANN, which is currently based in California. Should it become some kind of an independent non-government organization run entirely by the stakeholders, critics suggest, it could leave the United States for a location in Europe or Asia – making all disputes subject to international or foreign law rather than the laws of the United States and the state of California, as is currently the case.
George Landrith, the president of the non-partisan Frontiers for Freedom (where I am a senior fellow) and a group that has led the charge against the move, praised the House’s action in a statement. “The House did the right thing. Anyone who reads news that might be deemed offensive by Russia’s Putin or Iran’s Rouhani should be cheering. There is nothing that improves on the Internet by giving control of it to an unspecified UN-like organization that will include the world’s despots and those with a track record of censuring and punishing opposition views,” he said.
“Some have argued that the administration’s policy is simply the federal government privatizing the Internet – but that is laughable. Giving away control of the Internet to an international organization — which will eventually be dominated by those despots in the world clamoring to exert more control over the Internet — is not a move toward smaller, more accountable government. It is a move to even bigger and more invasive world government. No good can come of this,” Landrith concluded.
The polls say the announced transition is already extremely unpopular with the voting public, which worries about the influence that Russia or China might exert over Internet policy in future days and the possibility that an independent ICANN might move to impose Internet access taxes or similar measures on Web surfers operating in the industrialized world.
Supporters of the administration’s current policy, which has evolved since the decision was first announced, were quick to point out the Senate would be unlikely to follow suit by adding or accepting a similar amendment and that the president would veto the bill even if it did. This may be a case of whistling past the graveyard. Is President Obama really willing to put the essential functions of the U.S. Department of State and the Justice Department at risk over a standoff involving whether or not the U.S. should give away the Internet? Giving away the Panama Canal didn’t help Jimmy Carter or the Democrats, especially after the issue was used to defeat nearly a half score senators in his party at the next available opportunity.
Giving away the Internet, especially to some amorphous, opaque and unaccountable international body where the influence of the Chinese and the Russians potentially counts for more than ours, won’t help Obama and it won’t help the Democrats either. This is a policy that should be reconsidered, even revoked. The House is right to block the administration from using taxpayer dollars to fund something that is so clearly against the interests of the American people. The Senate should do the same.