The Conversation

Republicans worry about Internet freedom; Democrats put total faith in non-existent international bureaucracy

Admittedly I used a bit of a loaded headline there, but I'm only returning the favor, since National Journal chose to headline their article on the debate over surrendering American oversight of web domains "Republicans Fear Obama Will Let Russia Seize Internet Power."  

That's not actually what Republicans said during a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, although while we're on the subject, I have yet to hear any convincing argument from preventing some degree of authoritarian mischief from the Administration, other than "trust us, we'll never let that happen."  If you like your free Internet, you can keep your free Internet.  No one will take it away from you, period.

Committee Republicans did mention Vladimir Putin (whose troops are currently doing something or other near the borders of... Finland) but they only used him as one example of many bad actors, who could do a lot of damage without seizing total control of the entire Internet:

"Make no mistake: Threats to the openness and freedom of the Internet are real," said Republican Rep. Greg Walden, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee, which held a hearing on the issue Wednesday. "Leaders such as Vladimir Putin have explicitly announced their desire to gain control of the Internet."

Walden and other Republicans are pushing a bill that would block the transfer of authority until the Government Accountability Office can study the issue. Dozens of Senate Republicans, led by John Thune and Marco Rubio, sent a letter to the administration on Wednesday, demanding more answers about the plan.

But Democrats at Wednesday's hearing insisted that if Republicans were serious about Internet freedom, they would support the U.S. proposal. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Larry Strickling said the U.S. will make sure that no foreign government will be able to seize new powers over the Internet.

"No one has yet to explain to me the mechanism by which any of these individual governments could somehow seize control of the Internet as a whole," Strickling said.

"Do you really think that Vladimir Putin... isn't going to figure out some way to get control?" Rep. Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, shot back. "China and Russia can be very resourceful."

And I still don't see how those resourceful Chinese and Russian authoritarians can be wholly excluded from the proposed international government body, because so many of the "big stakeholders," who can't reasonably be excluded, have ties back to their controlling governments.  What's so crazy about doing this slowly and carefully, with the option to conclude that we shouldn't do it at all, when the decision is irrevocable?


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