How do you give away Internet freedom? President Obama is attempting to do it in one swift move.
President Obama has announced that he plans to move forward with relinquishing the U.S. government’s oversight over vital pieces of the Internet’s core infrastructure to the “global stakeholder community.” What is being referred to as the IANA transfer will surrender the domain name system (DNS) and root zone files to the organization ICANN and with it, America’s special role in promoting and protecting the greatest tool for individual freedom in human history would come to an end.
And he wants to do it without constitutionally required Congressional consent.
On September 22nd, leading members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees, Senators Cruz and Grassley and Representatives Issa and Goodlatte, sent a letter to the GAO raising the point that under Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution, a President cannot forfeit public property without the consent of the legislative branch. In light of that, the letter asked for answers to three questions:
- “Would the termination of the NTIA’s contract with ICANN cause government property, of any kind, to be transferred to ICANN?
- Is the authoritative root zone file, or other related materials or information, United States government property?
- If so, does the NTIA have the authority to transfer the root zone file or other related material or information to a non-federal entity?”
The GAO has not yet responded.
However, in a truly misinformed article, Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute David Post completely rejected the concerns of the elected officials, saying that the IANA transfer is nothing but a “termination of a series of contracts and “the file is intangible information… nobody owns that file — get used to it. It’s not the Panama Canal.”
There’s only one problem with that assertion. The “series of contracts” precisely states the opposite: someone DOES own the file, and it’s the United States Government. On pages 30 and 31 of the IANA/Department of Commerce contract, it is clearly stated that all deliverables are property of the US. That would include the most recently edited and released root zone file.
Mr. Post is right that it’s not the Panama Canal. It is something more valuable and important. It is the Internet.
These important documents that have allowed the Internet to function properly have been moderated, updated, and protected by U.S. supervision, under contract. While the Internet itself may be intangible, the deliverables described and agreed to in the agreements between the United States government and the private moderators are not. They are government property, owned by every American citizen. The Internet is not tribute that can be given away at the whim of President Obama.
While it is nice to acknowledge that the Internet belongs to everyone, it is important to also recognize that the special relationship America has with the Internet does matter. Securing the future of the Internet is vital to ensuring the Internet can be freely accessed by the world. The future of the Internet cannot be so carelessly trusted to the hands of an international corporation without an obligation to uphold freedom of speech.
Under U.S. government supervision, the buck stops here. Without those protections, the future of the web is determined by a board with zero transparency, and subject to the influence of regimes with disastrous plans that threaten freedom everywhere.