Both houses of Congress are out of session for another week and time is rapidly running out for lawmakers to save the internet.
When Congress comes back into session next Tuesday, it will only have a few short weeks to accomplish one of the most important tasks before it: ensuring that control of the internet does not fall into the hands of those who would actively censor it to the detriment of free speech and American interests.
On Sept. 30, the United States is poised to hand over control of the internet to the United Nations, following a years-long push by the Obama administration, after the Department of Commerce sub-administration signed off on the final plans to hand over control of the process on Aug. 16.
If the handoff goes through, the U.S. will no longer have controlling power over its own invention. This leaves Congress with just a month to block the effort, as they have in previous sessions.
As I explained in greater detail in an earlier story at Conservative Review, without congressional intervention, control over how information is sent and accessed on the World Wide Web will handed over to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
Originally chartered in 1998, ICANN’s job essentially is to handle the nuts and bolts of the internet’s basic operations. It’s a nonprofit body responsible for the maintenance and procedures of internet domain-name databases (like ".com," ".org," ".net," etc.), performing technical maintenance work and traffic direction on the things that make the internet work stably and consistently.
If Obama’s plan goes through, this process would be open to influence from countries like China, Russia, and Iran, which already actively censor the internet within their own borders.
While proponents of the handoff, like Obama’s Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, say that having international control of the Web's naming system secures the “openness and vibrancy of the internet.” Critics say that it has the potential to hand over the keys to the information superhighway to dictators and despots, who would then be able to influence internet censorship on a global scale.
“Authoritarian regimes have already proposed Icann become part of the U.N. to make it easier for them to censor the internet globally,” L. Gordon Crovitz of The Wall Street Journal recently wrote. “So much for the Obama pledge that the U.S. would never be replaced by a ‘government-led or an inter-governmental organization solution.’”
In an earlier op-ed for WSJ, Crovitz also criticized many in the tech media for accepting the Obama administration’s line that the move would merely be a “clerical” matter.
“It’s as clerical as the passage of the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea,” he retorted. “The U.S. defends the open internet by making sure no one else interferes, just as it dispatches ships to ensure that the sea lanes stay open.”
In late May, Sens. Ted Crux, R-Texas, (A, 97%), Mike Lee, R-Utah (A, 100%), and James Lankford, R-Okla. (D, 69%) sent a joint letter to the Department of Commerce expressing their “deep concerns” with the proposal.
“As you know, many countries and activist corporations use human rights commitments as vehicles to limit individual’s freedom of speech by regulating and forcing the moderation of content,” the letter reads, arguing that the best way to ensure freedom of speech around the world is to ensure that the regulatory mechanism controlling the internet “carries with it the protections afforded by the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment.”
Cruz’s office later released a short video primer on the subject, highlighting the threat that international control would pose and the effects of the “Protecting Internet Freedom Act” — a bill he has introduced alongside Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis. (F, 51%) in the House to effectively block the upcoming giveaway.
“We must keep the internet free: free of taxes, free of regulation, and free of censorship,” Cruz says in the instructional. “American built the internet, and we shouldn’t be giving it away to our enemies.”
The internet is the greatest conduit for speech, knowledge, wealth the world has ever seen. To allow that to fall into the hands of totalitarian despots like the Chinese politburo or the mullahs would be nothing short of a tragedy.
Nate Madden is a Staff Writer for Conservative Review, focusing on religious freedom, jihadism, and the judiciary. He previously served as the Director of Policy Relations for the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. A Publius Fellow, John Jay Fellow, Citadel Parliamentary Fellow and National Journalism Center alumnus, Nate’s writing has previously appeared in several religious and news publications. Follow him @NateMadden_IV.