As President Obama tries to end his presidency on the lowest, most destructive note possible, Senator Ted Cruz and House Republicans are planning to fight the president’s attempts to turn over internet oversight to nation’s that have, traditionally, not been icons of free speech.
GOP lawmakers have long warned that the administration’s plan to relinquish its authority over ICANN, the global nonprofit that manages the internet’s domain name system, could give authoritarian countries like China and Russia an opening to make an online power grab. Now, as the actual date of the transition approaches — Oct. 1 — Republicans are looking at throwing up new obstacles.
“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. “I rise today to discuss the significant, irreparable damage this proposed internet giveaway could wreak not only on our nation but on free speech across the world.”
He makes a very cogent point, as always, but that’s not stopping President Obama from appealing to the tech and telecom industries to support him in his efforts.
Senator Cruz has even set up a website to bring awareness to the dangers of allowing this to pass, as well as a countdown clock. He plans a hearing with the oversight subcommittee he chairs for next week, in order to examine the aspects of the president’s plan, as well as highlight the risks.
Meanwhile, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said Wednesday that language to delay the transition could be included in the continuing resolution to fund the government past this month. And House Republicans are considering their options in the coming appropriations bill, a GOP aide confirmed this week.
“I don’t think the foundation has been appropriately laid for this,” Thune said in an interview. “Some members are adamantly opposed to transition, period, and a lot of them just think now is not the time, and it really just hasn’t been vetted, and it’s not ready yet.”
Senator Jerry Moran, a Republican from Kansas, has called Obama’s deadline “arbitrary” and has suggested that nothing move forward until their concerns have been adequately addressed.
The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced the transition plan in 2014, saying it would enhance the “multistakeholder model” of internet governance. The agency said it was always envisioned that the U.S. role in overseeing the functions would be temporary. The announcement came in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaks about NSA surveillance — which sparked questions in Europe and elsewhere about the U.S. role in managing the internet’s architecture.
Republicans quickly criticized the decision, saying the loosening of U.S. control would create a vacuum filled by the likes of Russia and China, leading to more online censorship. Since then, Congress has passed a series of funding provisions that bar the agency from relinquishing its responsibility over the domain name functions. The latest of those provisions is set to expire Sept. 30.
And therein lies the double-headed coin of whistleblowers.
The chief of the NTIA, Larry Strickling, insists that no congressional laws have been broken by moving forward with drafting transition plans. He’s equally adamant that delaying the transition would be more of a gift for Russia and China, as it would hurt the credibility of America around the world.
Personally, I’d probably sacrifice credibility to avoid gullibility, but that’s just me.
An aide for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he thinks the transition should be delayed due to ongoing problems with the proposal. Rubio, along with four other Republican senators, wrote to the NTIA saying the transition plan was not ready and urging an extension of the U.S. contract with ICANN.
House Republicans have been vocal on the issue as well. On the first day Congress came back into session this week, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) delivered a floor speech on the importance of stopping the transfer of authority.
“Think about this. We cannot allow control for Russia or China over U.S. free speech,” she said.
And she’s absolutely right. There is no benefit to allowing nations with breathtaking control issues to have more of a say over one of the last bastions of free speech and expression.