Giving Away Control of the Internet
By Senator James Lankford
October 5, 2016
When Oklahomans asked me to represent them in Washington DC, I knew that I would not win every fight on every policy, but I understood many issues are worth the fight and the stand, even if you do not win. But I can honestly say, I never dreamed I would have to fight with the President and other members of the Senate over the future of the Internet. In case you have not heard, on October 1, President Obama inexplicably gave away American stewardship of one of the greatest technological advancements in the history of the world, the Internet.
The internet was created in the U.S., which is why the Department of Commerce had oversight of the naming functions. As a medium for communication and commerce and a product and forum for our First Amendment right of free speech, jurisdiction over the management of the naming functions is important to protect the free and open platform which guided the platform from its creation.
Unfortunately, last Saturday, the President gave away the control of the future of the Internet to an international body with no promise of protection for free speech. The internet’s domain name system, like .com and .org, addresses, was completely handed over from the Department of Commerce and day-to-day oversight from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to a global nonprofit organization called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.
ICANN is an organization made up of technical experts, representatives of businesses and more than a hundred foreign governments, which includes oppressive regimes such as China, Russia, Vietnam and Iran. President Obama has advocated giving away America’s protection of free speech on the Internet for years, even though many Americans, including myself, raised serious concerns about its impact on the future of the Internet.
Because of the Administration’s obsession to give away the future of the Internet, in the funding bill for Fiscal Year 2016, we included clear language to prohibit the Department of Commerce from transitioning the functions to an outside entity. Some of us, in Congress, have fought this on multiple fronts. Earlier this year, myself, and Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee challenged ICANN CEO’s involvement with the World Internet Conference and his commitment to free speech. In May and June, we also exposed the NTIA’s apparent violation of federal law in using federal funds to transfer internet authority to ICANN. In June, I joined Cruz and Lee again in introducing the Protecting Internet Freedom Act (S. 3034), a bill to prevent the Obama administration from transferring internet authority to ICANN.
Despite multiple letters to the President, legislation, multiple hearings and senate floor speeches, the President allowed our existing oversight contract to expire, which for all practical purposes, transferred the Internet completely to ICANN. While this was an incredibly disappointing move by the Administration, we at least protected the administrative authority over certain public website domain names, such as the .mil, .gov, .edu and .us domains.
No one can explain why the President and Senate Democrats were so obsessed with transitioning control of the Internet to a global body. We passed legislation to block the transfer, held hearings, wrote letters and pushed national media to take notice; but in the end, he still gave it away. The damage to free speech will not be felt for a few years, but there is no question that the Internet, as we know, is changing…. and now China, Russia and Iran have the same voice on its future as the United States of America.