04.04.2014 2

Walden: ‘Nobody controls ICANN’

ProtectTheInternetBy Robert Romano

“Nobody controls ICANN.”

That was House Energy Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Chairman Rep. Greg Walden’s (R-Oreg.) blunt assessment on April 2 of just who will be in charge of Internet governance after the U.S. cedes control over a contract with the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in September 2015.

And that might be the problem, going forward with how the assignment of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses — the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) — and the domain name system (DNS) is handled under whatever new system is developed.

Who will ensure ICANN or its successor upholds the First Amendment and its guarantees of freedom of speech, of the press, and religious freedom on the Internet when the contract expires?

Nobody, that’s who.

Because, being either a private foundation or some as of yet unspecified international body, free from U.S. government oversight, whoever takes over these functions will no longer be required to follow the First Amendment. Right now, an incident of censorship might be dealt with in federal court.

Nobody has said so far how it might be dealt with in the future.

Yet, Commerce Department Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information Larry Strickling in a Singapore conference last week on this issue dismissed any possibility of censorship resulting from the transition: “I’m extremely puzzled and troubled by the idea that’s emerged that somehow this evolution is going to threaten free expression on the Internet.”

At the April 2 committee hearing, Strickling again questioned the feasibility of censorship, questioning what the “mechanism” for authoritarian control would even be.

Yet, when China and Russia were proposing that the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union (ITU) take over vital aspects of Internet governance in 2012, including the allocation of IP addresses, Strickling was singing a decidedly different tune.

Suddenly, then, free expression on the Internet was very much in doubt.

“Each of these proposals, when viewed in isolation, would undermine a critical part of the diverse, multi-layered Internet. Viewed together, these proposals represent an attempt to bring the Internet under supranational regulation,” Strickling said at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Telecommunications and E-Commerce Committee in Washington, D.C. on June 15, 2012.

These objections to turning it over to the UN were echoed by then-Federal Communications Commissioner (FCC) chairman Rob McDowell in testimony before Walden’s same committee on May 31, 2012 that “potential ITU jurisdiction over IP addresses would enable it to regulate Internet services and devices with abandon. IP addresses are a fundamental and essential component to the inner workings of the net. Taking their administration away from the bottom-up, nongovernmental, multi-stakeholder model and placing it into the hands of international bureaucrats would be a grave mistake.”

McDowell added, “such a scenario would be devastating to global economic activity as well as political freedom, but it would hurt the developing world the most.”

One might question why Strickling and McDowell have any more faith in the multistakeholder model — which includes governments — as compared to the UN intergovernmental model. Maybe they’re both bad ideas.

After all, by Strickling and McDowell’s own admissions, the “mechanism” for censorship occurring via the IANA functions is not who wields them per se, it is the functions themselves that can be abused. That is what is dangerous.

The question is who will administer the functions, and how will the U.S. hold them accountable after they are given away in 2015 should something go awry?

Because as Chairman Walden noted, “Nobody controls ICANN.”

Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.

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