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Sept. 8 — Growing GOP congressional resistance to a U.S. plan to cede oversight of technical internet functions threatens to derail the two-year effort just weeks short of the finish line.
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz Sept. 8 urged his fellow lawmakers to include language in a stopgap government funding bill to block the Obama administration initiative to hand over oversight to a nonprofit entity that coordinates the domain name system.
Later Sept. 8, the Republican chairmen of four House and Senate committees released a letter asking the Obama administration to “reconsider” the plan and address questions about accountability of the nonprofit, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, to the global internet community.
It's not clear whether the fresh GOP roadblocks will actually stall the U.S. Commerce Department's plan to relinquish its oversight role to ICANN as of Oct. 1. But the moves raise new doubts about whether the complex transition—widely backed by the tech sector—will happen as scheduled.
Senate Republican leaders are planning to bring a continuing resolution to the floor as soon as the week of Sept. 12. After Senate action, the measure would be sent to the House, where lawmakers would be under pressure to approve it quickly in order not to bump up against the Sept. 30 deadline to renew government funding.
“To stop the giveaway of our internet freedom, Congress should act by continuing and by strengthening the appropriations rider in the continuing resolution that we will be considering this month,” Cruz said in a Senate floor speech.
It wasn't immediately clear whether Cruz would insist on the rider language, nor whether he would seek to block the continuing resolution if it does not contain such a rider. If a continuing resolution is not enacted by Sept. 30, funding for the government will lapse and federal agencies face furloughs.
Cruz argued that by proceeding with the plan the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration is violating a fiscal year 2016 appropriations measure that included language barring the agency from using funds for the transition.
The NTIA had informed Cruz in a June 29 letter that it “has not and will not use appropriated funds to relinquish its stewardship role during fiscal year 2016.”
Cruz, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts Subcommittee, will hold a hearing Sept. 14 to investigate what he calls the “possible dangers” of the transition plan, which includes, as Cruz sees it, enabling countries such as Russia and China to censor online speech.
Assistant Commerce Secretary Lawrence E. Strickling has agreed to testify at the hearing, an NTIA spokeswoman told Bloomberg BNA.
Cruz said that there has been equal internet access under U.S. government oversight, but transferring that oversight to an international organization comprised of 162 countries could lead to online censorship and “pose a significant threat to our freedom.”
“Giving control of the internet to an international body with Russia and China and Iran having power over it could lead to precisely that threat,” Cruz said, “and it's going to take Congress acting affirmatively to stop it.”
An ICANN spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.), listed concerns over the legality of the transition and whether it would lead to greater control of the internet by authoritarian regimes.
“Absent clear legal certainty, moving forward with the transition could have devastating consequences for Internet users,” the lawmakers wrote.
The lawmakers questioned whether ICANN would be able to abide by its accountability and transparency duties if the U.S. government cedes oversight of the organization, given ICANN's acceptance of an independent review panel declaration that it acted inconsistently with its own bylaws. That panel had held that ICANN's board didn't exercise due diligence when it chose not to reconsider a top-level domain applicant's rewarded priority status over competing applicants (21 ECLR 32, 8/17/16).
The GOP quartet also raised the question of whether ICANN will be subject to increased antitrust scrutiny after it steps out from protection of U.S. government oversight. The lawmakers called for guidance from the Department of Justice before the transition occurs.
“This is yet another indication that the Administration has not fully considered nor addressed all of the implications of transitioning the IANA functions to the global multi-stakeholder community,” the lawmakers wrote.
The Commerce Department is reviewing the letter and will respond accordingly, a spokesperson told Bloomberg BNA. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.
TechFreedom, a free market policy think tank, released a white paper Sept. 8 listing a dozen legal and practical concerns about the administration’s plan, many of them echoing those cited by Cruz and the GOP chairmen. TechFreedom suggested extending the current contract between ICANN and the Commerce Department for one to two years to address these concerns and monitor ICANN's accountability.
— With assistance from Nancy Ognanovich
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at email@example.com
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