The Conversation

China, Russia, and Iran want a crack at controlling the Internet

Each passing day sees more resistance to the Obama Administration's announced handover of Internet domain supervision to an as-yet undetermined global agency.  There's still plenty of support for the move as well, but the pendulum seems to be swinging against it this week.

This morning we heard from a few Republican critics of the Internet handover.  National Journal adds Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) to the list:

"If the Obama Administration gives away its oversight of the Internet, it will be gone forever," wrote Daniel Castro, a senior analyst with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

Castro argued that the world "could be faced with a splintered Internet that would stifle innovation, commerce, and the free flow and diversity of ideas that are bedrock tenets of world's biggest economic engine."

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, called the announcement a "hostile step" against free speech.

"Giving up control of ICANN will allow countries like China and Russia that don't place the same value in freedom of speech to better define how the internet looks and operates," she said in a statement.

It's hard to argue with Mr. Castro's point; there will be no way for the United States to regain oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers once it's been handed off to some global body.  And there are good reasons for Rep. Blackburn to worry about what the composition of that global body might be, as National Journal notes "China, Russia, Iran, and dozens of other countries are already pushing for more control over the Internet through the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency."

The Administration has promised that it won't accept foreign governments controlling ICANN, and has specifically promised the International Telecommunications Union won't be involved.  And we all know how calmly and logically these decisions tend to be made, once they're handed off to the "international community."  Just look at how swimmingly the United Nations' effort to halt Russian annexation of Crimea is going!

It's somewhat annoying to hear American supporters of the ICANN handover doing their level best to validate the narrative that their own country can no longer be trusted with oversight of the Internet, while actual users point out that U.S. supervision has been working out quite well, as in these quotes from a Politico story:

If the agency hadn’t relinquished its oversight, the ITU could continue to argue that ICANN functioned as a pawn for the U.S. government, said former Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who oversaw the Energy and Commerce subcommittee with jurisdiction over ICANN. “This will reduce the level of global controversy.”

The uncertain path forward still has some in the business community concerned.

“I don’t see how the future ends up being better than the last decade of responsible stewardship by the U.S.,” said Steve DelBianco, executive director of the trade association NetChoice, which counts Yahoo and Facebook as members. “Once the contract leverage is gone, what’s to prevent ICANN from being more significantly influenced by [specific] governments. … The devil is in the details.”

So let's hear those iron-clad, foolproof plans to keep authoritarian regimes from getting their hands on ICANN once America casts it adrift into the uncertain waters of the international community.


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