Despotic regimes want to censor the internet, and President Obama is trying to make it easier for them to do that.
The U.S. exercises a very loose oversight through a long-standing contract with Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann. U.S. oversight has promoted an internet that is open since the 1990s.
Unless Congress stops it this summer, the Obama administration will end this U.S. oversight. It will be a happy day for authoritarian regimes that do not want their people to have access to free-flowing information. Gordon Crovitz writes in the Wall Street Journal:
Instead of shielding the internet from governments, the plan gives governments new powers. Authoritarian regimes would gain greater influence over the Icann board, and for the first time governments would have a vote on bylaw changes, removal of the board and the budget.
The Obama administration knows that the new internet-governance plan offers nothing like the guaranteed open internet under continued U.S. control. In a lame defense of the plan, Commerce official Larry Strickling last week told the Washington Post, “At the end of the day, this whole system is built on trust.”
Trusting China and Russia to leave the internet alone takes Obama administration naïveté to a new level.
The administration juistifies unilateral surrender of U.S. oversight with the contention that authoritarian regimes will reciprocate by refraining from setting up domestic systems separate from the global internet. This is fantasy: Despite the Obama kowtow, Beijing has accelerated the requirement for its own domains for web access in China.
It is arguably unconstitutional for the Obama administration to cede oversight without going through the proper procedure, but, not for the first time, it's a risk the administration seems willing to take:
Aside from flaws in the new plan for internet governance, the Obama gambit to end U.S. oversight without congressional approval is unconstitutional. Congress must authorize transfers of U.S. property, which includes the Icann domain system, worth billions of dollars. If the courts later rule that Mr. Obama’s unilateral action violates the separation of powers, there will be no remedy because the contract will be gone forever.
There is congressional opposition:
The “Protecting Internet Freedom Act” introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Sean Duffy requires congressional approval before Mr. Obama abandons the internet. Five senators led by Marco Rubio take a middle ground by seeking an extension of U.S. oversight to test the new governance plan. The House is using its power of the purse to block the transfer of the contract.
Congress has insisted on U.S. oversight to guarantee an uncensored internet. The only way for authoritarian regimes to obtain the power to censor websites outside their own countries, including in the U.S., would be if the Obama administration hands it to them. Time is running out for Congress to insist that the U.S. continue to protect Americans and everyone around the world who values the open internet.
This is an unnecessary surrender with profound effects for the internet as we know it and people around the globe.