Dangerous Erosion of Freedom as Obama Cedes Control of the Internet

Rachel Alexander

4/7/2014 12:01:00 AM - Rachel Alexander

Since the Internet now permeates our lives in every possible way, it is disturbing that Obama has relinquished U.S. control over its underlying structure. Control will be turned over to a global panel, which will include totalitarian countries that do not value our First Amendment protection of free speech.

Since 1998, through a contract with the U.S. government, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a nonprofit corporation, has administered the IP numbering network and domain name system (DNS) worldwide, controlling .com, .gov, etc. ICANN has done a fairly respectable job administering the rules and standards. Its board is composed of an incredibly diverse selection of foreign citizens. The vice chair is Australian. The current makeup of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee includes 109 nations, plus the European Union and the Vatican.

To claim that ICANN is under U.S. control is really in name only, since the U.S. members of the organization have worked together successfully to forge consensus with foreign members. In spite of this,international interests have been pressuring the U.S. since 1998 to relinquish all control from ICANN to an “international organization.” The Department of Commerce under President Clinton indicated it intended to eventually cede control.

The final straw came when whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the NSA had spied on its European allies during the Obama administration. This gave Obama an excuse to arrange for the transfer of power away from ICANN.

“Every American should worry about Obama giving up control of the internet to an undefined group. This is very, very dangerous,” warned former speaker of the house Newt Gingrich. “What is the global internet community that Obama wants to turn the internet over to? This risks foreign dictatorships defining the internet.”

Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonpartisan tech-focused D.C. think tank, wrote on the organization’s website, "While on the surface this may seem like a simple administrative decision that gives more control over this key Internet function to more stakeholders, it could actually have far reaching negative implications for the freedom and security of the Internet.”

Surprisingly, even former president Bill Clinton has changed his mind over the years about relinquishing authority. He said during a speech at Arizona State University last month, “I understand in theory why we would like to have a multi-stakeholder process. I favor that. 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.”

When I was an attorney for Go Daddy Software, I saw firsthand the immense power ICANN has over the Internet. For example, it could make sweeping decisions related to .com, such as blocking certain viewpoints or countries from owning or even accessing .com domains. Put the wrong people in charge, and all sorts of groups - such as conservatives, Christians and Jews who are targeted in today’s politically correct era - could find themselves cut out from much of the Internet. Since the Internet pervades everything we do today in our lives, this would have a chilling effect on the communication and free speech rights of such groups.

Academics from the Internet Governance Project, which backed the transfer, claim, “Far from ‘giving up’ something or ‘losing control’, the U.S. is sure to find that its policy has gained strength. We have just made it a lot harder for opponents of a free and open internet to pretend that what they are really against is an internet dominated by one hegemonic state.”

This is a mischaracterization. The “one hegemonic state” happens to be the country that will protect freedom of speech on the Internet more so than any other country. Giving countries like Russia and China control will lead to censorship. To believe otherwise is naive, considering their past behavior - including recently - of stamping out dissidents. Every week, there is another story in the news about an authoritarian country attempting to censor the Internet. One only has to look at the U.N. and the sinister treaties that have come out of it, instigated by oppressive governments, to see what happens when the U.S. is not permitted a primary role protecting freedom and liberty. The officials who say with a straight face there is nothing to worry about the transfer most likely have sinister motives themselves, such as a kickback from the transfer.

There wasn’t much media coverage of Obama’s decision to transfer control. The decision was announced on March 14, 2014, a Friday afternoon, by the Department of Commerce. When the government makes announcements on Friday afternoons, it usually means someone is trying to bury the news, since news outlets are less likely to make them a big story over the weekend, and people are less likely to read the news then. Obama is hoping the American people will buy the administration’s platitude that it is merely a small administrative move, nothing substantive. After all of Obama’s lies at this point, no one should believe him. George Washington once said, “If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” Even Bill Clinton now understands this. Obama doesn’t.