Future of Internet Freedom at Risk Over Potential American Surrender of ICANN

In March, the United States Department of Commerce released a statement, which indicated the organization would begin to relinquish its longstanding role as safe keeper of internet freedom.   If the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) surrenders this governance, Internet freedom will be at risk on a global scale.

During the December 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) convened by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an agency of the United Nations (UN), America stated clearly that proposals, which would tax those who send data, limit free speech, and implement territorial borders around the Internet, is unacceptable. These ideas proposed at the WCIT would make it harder to communicate across borders, develop pro-consumer network management, and limit entrepreneurs’ ability to manage data storage.

Upon returning from the December 2012 WCIT, then FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell testified during a joint House Committee hearing made five points emphasizing the dangers of moving away from the multi-stakeholder model currently used, to an intergovernmental model:
1) Proponents of multilateral intergovernmental control of the Internet are patient and 
persistent incrementalists who will never relent until their ends are achieved; 
2) The recently concluded World Conference on International Telecommunications 
(“WCIT”) ended the era of an international consensus to keep intergovernmental 
hands off of the Internet in dramatic fashion, thus radically twisting the one-way 
ratchet of even more government regulation in this space; 
3) Those who cherish Internet freedom must immediately redouble their efforts to 
prevent further expansions of government control of the Internet as the pivotal 2014 
Plenipotentiary meeting of the International Telecommunication Union (“ITU”)quickly draws nearer; 
4) Merely saying “no” to any changes is – quite obviously – a losing proposition; therefore we should work to offer alternate proposals such as improving the long–
standing and highly successful, non-governmental, multi-stakeholder model of 
Internet governance to include those who may feel disenfranchised; and 
5) Last year’s bipartisan and unanimous Congressional resolutions clearly opposing 
expansions of international powers over the Internet reverberated throughout the 
world and had a positive and constructive effect. 
On February 5, the Senate passed S.Res 71, declaring February 8th-14th, “Internet Governance Awareness Week.”  By doing so, the Senate has expressed concern over ICANN’s possible transition. According to the text of the bill:
“Nothing in this resolution shall be construed as congressional approval of any proposal by ICANN to transition the stewardship of the functions of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority to the global multistakeholder community.”
These valid concerns did not end there.  On February 12, Senator Thune (R-S.D.) announced that the Senate Commerce Committee will host a hearing to discuss the Commerce Department’s leadership role in oversight of international Internet freedom. In the words of Senator Thune, the hearing with give members he opportunity “to take a hard look at where they’re going,” on Internet freedom.
Senator Thune’s announcement follows a concerning announcement out of Singapore regarding the future stewardship of ICANN.  U.S. jurisdiction of the corporation expires in just a few months.  If ICANN transitions out of U.S. control, Internet freedom may very well come under attack
Peter Roff explains,
“A strong system of accountability is the only way to insure that the process of Internet governance won’t be captured by rogue countries or other special interests when and if the domain name system function is transferred.”
A coalition letter by advocacy groups sent to the Senate and House Judiciary Committees in March 2014 explains how in an attempt to “Internationalize” itself, ICANN is opening the door to allow oppressive governments and regimes control the internet.
To read more about ICANN and the coalition letter sent to the Senate and House Judiciary Committee signed by Digital Liberty’s Katie McAuliffe, click here.