Four Republican attorneys general have filed suit against the Obama administration in a hail mary effort to keep the internet’s domain-name system under United States oversight. On Wednesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton joined his counterparts from Arizona, Oklahoma, and Nevada to ask a federal judge to block the administration from transferring control over this system to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
“Trusting authoritarian regimes to ensure the continued freedom of the internet is lunacy,” said Paxton in a statement. “The president does not have the authority to simply give away America’s pioneering role in ensuring that the internet remains a place where free expression can flourish.”
Without a favorable decision from the U.S. District Court in Galveston, the U.S. will relinquish control over ICANN and put the future of the internet into uncertain waters. While the transfer is widely supported by the tech world, Republicans like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump worry that it could eventually mean the end of free speech on the internet.
“Imagine an internet run like many Middle Eastern countries, that punish what they deem to be blasphemy,” said Cruz at a Senate hearing this week. “Or imagine an internet run like China or Russia, that punish and incarcerate those that engage in political dissent.”
ICANN, which acts as a steward over the domain name system (.com, .org, .biz, etc.), has been under U.S. authority since 1998. The plan from the beginning was to eventually transfer full authority over this system to the group, which is a multistakeholder community that includes private corporations, academics, techies, and international governments. But in the meantime, the U.S. retained oversight in the form of the Commerce Dept. Now that the time for relinquishing that oversight has arrived, many are concerned about what it is we’re actually giving away.
“Is ICANN bound by the First Amendment?” Cruz asked the group’s CEO, Goran Marby, at the hearing.
Marby said, “To my understanding, no.”
In an attempt to move the needle in Congress, Cruz and Rep. Sean Duffy penned an open letter last week, explaining their concerns. Without U.S. control, they warned, ICANN would no longer be required to uphold our free speech principles.
“That means that ICANN would be free to regulate internet speech by restricting which websites can gain access to the internet based on their speech,” they wrote.
Addressing critics who say that is a preposterous scenario, the two wrote: “Under ICANN’s post-handover bylaws, foreign governments and global corporations will have an increased voice within ICANN moving forward. Instead of only being able to set and enforce censorship policies at the edge of the internet, foreign governments and global corporations will be able to wield significant influence at the internet’s core, although now without the oversight of the United States that has guaranteed the free and open internet we enjoy today.”
The Obama administration, however, says there’s nothing to worry about.
And when have they ever lied to us?