It looks like at least some Republicans are planning to make hay over Friday night’s surprise “document dump” announcement that American authority over Internet domain registration would be handed off to some as-yet nonexistent global body. Politico notes that while a few prominent Republicans, such as Senators Marco Rubio and ranking Commerce Committee member John Thune, are currently non-committal or guardedly optimistic, others have swiftly become critical of the plan, and plan to make it a campaign issue:
“While I certainly agree our nation must stridently review our procedures regarding surveillance in light of the NSA controversy, to put ourselves in a situation where censorship-laden governments like China or Russia could take a firm hold on the Internet itself is truly a scary thought,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Senate Commerce Committee and with the Commerce Department on this, because — to be blunt — the ‘global internet community’ this would empower has no First Amendment.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, minutes after the Friday announcement, tweeted: “Every American should worry about Obama giving up control of the Internet to an undefined group. This is very, very dangerous.”
And that’s just a start.
“This is red meat for the base,” said former Rep. Mary Bono (R-Calif.), who sponsored a resolution in 2012 aimed at keeping the Internet free of governmental control. “We’re at a critical time where [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is proving he is capable of outmaneuvering the administration. … As they digest it, I think people are going to be very upset.”
It’s tough to judge the overall snap reaction to a major announcement delivered as such a stealthy late-night “oh, by the way” surprise, which is probably why it came after happy hour on Friday, but thus far, enthusiastic support seems outweighed by a broadly negative mixture of weary resignation, skepticism, and outright hostility – not just from politicians, but from Internet businesses interests and user groups. A better read on the public mood will be possible once the new international organization has actually been defined and presented for review. Right now, we have a lot of promises that it won’t turn into the usual U.N. carnival of corruption, or a mechanism for dictators to shut down web sites they don’t like… but no sane person believes this Administration’s promises any more.
Also, although the Republicans quoted above are mostly concerned with the dangers to Internet freedom represented by the surrender of American control, there’s also the painfully open “secret” that it’s happening as a response to the Edward Snowden revelations. The Obama Administration denies this in the strongest terms, but virtually everyone else in the world sees it that way. It would be sadly typical of Obama foreign policy for him to find a new way to validate the worst international criticisms of the United States: Yeah, you guys are right, America can’t be trusted to guard Internet freedom any more. I would expect that point to appear in political campaigns, if resistance to the ICANN handover stiffens.