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Obama may give control of the internet to the UN. And for What?

Someone needs to manage the Internet, and come September 30, no one is quite sure who will be. Sounds bizarre —  an entity worth millions?

Once upon a time, a guy called Jon Postel managed the Net (all the domain names) but he died in 1998 and that job went to ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). Since 1998, that’s been a part of the US Dept of Commerce. They get to decide who gets to use all the dot-somethings (eg, .com, .au, .cpa). ICANN can award them to groups or run an auction and pocket that cash.  It is a monopoly, and there are conflicts there. The contract with the Dept of Commerce expires on Sept 30. In a normal world you’d expect the superpower-in-charge to roll that one over unless there was a big payoff for letting it go, or a foreign army on the beaches.

If the US government isn’t in control of ICANN, it can’t run as a separate monopoly thanks to US antitrust laws. So immediately ICANN is set “free” it will need to find a government to adopt it, so it has exemption from anti-trust laws (and more to the point, so it is accountable to something). But when it comes to government, there are a lot of bad choices.  The obvious choice is you-know-what, the global bureaucracy that isn’t elected, and never gets held to account. Come October 1 this year (a mere three weeks away) the UN may get control over… the internet. Scary? I think so.

An Internet Giveaway to the U.N.

The only thing worse than a monopoly overseen by the U.S. government is a monopoly overseen by no one—or by a Web-censoring U.N. Congress still has time to extend its ban on the Obama administration giving up protection of the internet. Icann has given it every reason to do so.

The Wall Street Journal reported that apparently the Obama administration has no plan for what happens to ICANN on October 1. That seems hard to believe…

Without the U.S. contract, Icann would seek to be overseen by another governmental group so as to keep its antitrust exemption. Authoritarian regimes have already proposed Icann become part of the U.N. to make it easier for them to censor the internet globally. So much for the Obama pledge that the U.S. would never be replaced by a “government-led or an inter-governmental organization solution.”

Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government, called it “simply stunning” that the “politically blinded Obama administration missed the obvious point that Icann loses its antitrust shield should the government relinquish control.”

The other side of the debate is also at The Wall St Journal: Who will oversee the Internet. Gautham Nagesh argues that it’s no big deal, the UN won’t get control, and we should relax and be calm. But I didn’t find this soothing:

Mr. Larry Strickling [head of Commerce Dept] said he’s confident that a solution can be reached; the implication is that the U.S. is not going to back out unless it’s sure another government-led organization isn’t going to take its place.

So three weeks to go, and we’ll be protected by Larry’s sense of “sure-ness”?

And if it’s not the UN, it will still be “like” the UN — global, unaccountable and prone to corruption. Think IOC. Think FIFA.

The U.N. could filter and vet,
Those who challenge their views on the Net,
As with text-books, revised,
For the youth, sanitized,
To remove any skeptical threat.

    — Ruairi

But Why?

The part of the equation that doesn’t make sense to me is why the US would give this up. What’s the US getting in return? This below, is the best answer I could find. If this is it, we’re in deep trouble:

So why is this happening? Couldn’t they just leave things the way they were? The main goal is to reassure other countries that the U.S. isn’t secretly controlling the structure of the Internet. To the extent American businesses have been damaged by the Edward Snowden disclosures, especially those offering cloud and other online services, this is a move aimed at repairing the relationship between the U.S. and other countries on Internet issues.

Make no mistake, this is a concession by the U.S. While the Commerce Department rarely intervened publicly in ICANN’s affairs, the implicit threat of its ability to do so will be gone. That could have an unforeseen impact in the future, particularly if cyberweapons continue to play a larger role in military and counter-intelligence activities.

Apparently the US is making this big concession to earn symbolic brownie points in the reassurance and relationships stakes. It sounds a lot like paying billions to try to change the weather. Symbolic.

For those opposing the overreach of Big Government, our best asset is free speech — The Internet. As long as we have the Net, we can fight back.

Senator Ted Cruz “slams Obama” and set up a page: Don’t let Obama Give Away The Internet.

The US Congress may still be able to stop this:

“Today our country faces a threat to the internet as we know it. In 22 short days, if Congress fails to act, the Obama administration intends to give away the internet to an international body akin to the United Nations,” Cruz said in a speech on the Senate floor Thursday.

Some quotes:

“Proponents of the Internet give away tout a new “multi-stakeholder” model and use soothing terms like “bottom-up” and “consensus” that suggest everyone will work together for the greater good. But what they haven’t demonstrated is how an ICANN independent of the United States and our Constitution will remain independent of the Chinese, Russians, North Koreans, Iranians and others around the globe who are unfriendly to democratic values and have used violence to silence their political opposition. As long as the Internet is accountable to the American public through its government and bound by the U.S. Constitution, the Internet will continue to be a modern miracle of freedom.  We need every Representative and Senator in Congress to stand up for the American public and for free speech and guaranty that the Internet does not slowly become just one more technology controlled by despots.”- George Landrith, President, Frontiers of Freedom

“In the wake of the announcement that ICANN’s multi-stakeholder architect Fade Chehade will be a senior advisor to the Chinese government which seeks to dismantle the ICANN governance system, it would be dangerous and foolhardy to proceed with the Internet transition until the full impact of Chehade’s changing sides has been taken into account.”- Rick Manning, President, Americans for Limited Government

“The abdication of U.S. oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) would have serious consequences for our national security interests and Constitutional freedoms.   Such a move would diminish the role of the U.S. government in guaranteeing Internet freedom by 1) giving foreign governments, including hostile and authoritarian regimes, a greater say in Internet core operating functions, thereby increasing the risk that the Internet could be used as an instrument of warfare; and 2) further empowering foreign governments and non-governmental stakeholders, who are neither obligated to protect the First Amendment nor necessarily inclined to do so, to make decisions regarding Internet freedom that run counter to free speech.  It is grossly irresponsible for any president to jeopardize core American interests this way, particularly in the absence of explicit congressional authorization, which the Protecting Internet Freedom Act requires.” – Center for Security Policy

h/t Roy

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