The Wall Street Journal’s L. Gordon Croitz wrote yesterday about a looming threat to internet freedom that comes to us, not surprisingly, courtesy of the Obama administration:
We’re at the midpoint between the Obama administration’s March announcement that it would end U.S. protection of the open Internet and September 2015, when the change is supposed to happen. During this time, there has been no progress finding an alternative for protecting the Internet from authoritarian governments.
That’s no surprise—except to Obama administration officials who apparently never considered how hard it would be to replace U.S. stewardship.
This U.S. stewardship derives from the U.S. Commerce Department’s overseeing a number of key functions of the internet. The U.S. has a contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers—Icann—which administers domain names and addresses. Good heavens—can’t have this! Why it’s almost imperialism!
The Obama administration issued a September deadline for giving up this contract. Here is what former president Bill Clinton said of this: “A lot of people who have been trying to take this authority away from the U.S. want to do it for the sole purpose of cracking down on Internet freedom.” What will replace U.S. control of these functions:
If a U.S. contract no longer holds Icann accountable, what will? There is no known form of corporate governance that can ensure that Icann, a nonprofit based in California, remains out of the control of authoritarian governments. Its board will be subject to control by governments determined to give themselves dominance over the other stakeholders.
Why is the Obama administration doing this?
The Obama administration is so uncomfortable with American exceptionalism that it violated the cardinal rule of good government: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Under U.S. protection, the Internet became the wonder of the modern world. The U.S. should retain stewardship over the Internet and postpone any fixing of the Internet until there is a problem to fix.
Meanwhile, one authoritarian regime is already preparing for more government control of the internet:
As Washington dithers, authoritarian regimes grow more brazen. China hosted a “World Internet Conference” Nov. 19-21. It was run by the State Internet Information Office, which operates the world’s largest firewall, keeping Chinese people from accessing the global Web. The rallying cry of the conference was “Respect Internet sovereignty of all countries.”
Congressional approval would be required for the U.S. to divest itself of stewardship of the internet. Crovitz observes—rather quaintly in light of the administration’s view of constitutional authority—that the administration hasn’t provided legal justification for its September diktat.