The Obama administration’s calamitous policy of abandoning U.S. control of Internet domain names is being handled by none other than his controversial Chicago crony, Penny Pritzker. Pritzker, the Hyatt billionaire and subprime mortgage lender who withdrew her name from consideration for Secretary of Commerce in 2008 only to be confirmed in 2012, was also a major Obama donor and bundler during his presidential campaigns.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration announced that it would seek to transfer control of Internet domain names from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to some international body, likely the the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU). That could leave control of the Internet in the hands of non-democratic nations–as well as western nations that do not meet U.S. standards of free speech.
The new policy, thought to be a conciliatory gesture to make up for the political scandal surrounding the Obama administration’s surveillance of foreign leaders through the National Security Agency, has been widely panned by left and right. A survey by Rasmussen earlier this year showed that nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose giving up control of the Internet, and several GOP members of Congress have backed a bill to block the move.
Pritzker told a meeting of ICANN in Los Angeles on Monday: “The United States will not allow the global Internet to be co-opted by any person, entity or nation seeking to substitute their parochial world view for the collective wisdom of this community.” Yet it is precisely that “collective wisdom” that worries Americans and civil liberties advocates–especially when even European nations enforce some censorship of Internet content.
U.S. control of domain names has guaranteed freedom of speech and commerce across the Internet, against the strenuous efforts of countries like China and Iran to suppress Internet traffic and content. In addition, victims of international terror have found potential relief in U.S. courts by suing to seize the domain names of countries like Iran in lieu of direct compensation. Without U.S. control, those victims would have no possible recourse.
It would be highly ironic if the president most closely supported by Silicon Valley, and whose rise was largely made possible by the advent of social media on the Internet, would be the one who destroys the foundation of freedom that made his administration possible. Yet no irony seems to great for Obama’s gesture-driven foreign policy, which perpetuates a façade of international support while U.S. allies are in retreat around the world.
Since taking office last year, Pritzker has been largely invisible. Her support for the Internet policy switch would be her most prominent undertaking–and also her most disastrous. The woman who drove Superior Bank into the ground would hardly seem the most confidence-inspiring choice to lead any kind of transition in Internet policy, or any major policy initiative, for that matter. But she is a loyal Obama lieutenant–hence her role.
Republicans who dropped their objections to Pritzker–such as the normally hawkish Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, whose support was key to ensuring Pritzker’s confirmation–must now face the fact that an appointee who was deemed merely good enough for the job has championed one of the worst foreign policy initiatives of this White House, or any other. There may only be several months left in which to rescue the Internet from total disaster.
Senior Editor-at-Large Joel B. Pollak edits Breitbart California and is the author of the new ebook, Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party, available for Amazon Kindle.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelpollak