Donald Trump Doubles Down On Ted Cruz's Blatantly Confused And Backwards Argument Over Internet Governance
from the let-that-transition-go dept
We’ve been explaining this since it was first proposed two years ago: but the IANA transfer away from the Commerce Dept. is a good thing on a variety of important levels. Earlier this year, we did a more thorough explaination on why it was a good thing, and then a further post earlier this month explained why Ted Cruz, who was leading the charge in blocking the transition, was basically wrong on every point about it. And not just wrong, dangerously so. Cruz keeps claiming that the transition makes it easier for Russia, China and the UN to “take control” over internet governance. The exact opposite is true. But we’ll get there.
I was working on another post about some of the issues related to this… and while I was working on it Donald Trump decided to turn this into a Presidential campaign issue by releasing a statement more or less echoing Cruz’s factually incoherent position:
“Donald J. Trump is committed to preserving Internet freedom for the American people and citizens all over the world. The U.S. should not turn control of the Internet over to the United Nations and the international community. President Obama intends to do so on his own authority ? just 10 days from now, on October 1st, unless Congress acts quickly to stop him. The Republicans in Congress are admirably leading a fight to save the Internet this week, and need all the help the American people can give them to be successful. Hillary Clinton?s Democrats are refusing to protect the American people by not protecting the Internet.
The U.S. created, developed and expanded the Internet across the globe. U.S. oversight has kept the Internet free and open without government censorship ? a fundamental American value rooted in our Constitution?s Free Speech clause. Internet freedom is now at risk with the President?s intent to cede control to international interests, including countries like China and Russia, which have a long track record of trying to impose online censorship. Congress needs to act, or Internet freedom will be lost for good, since there will be no way to make it great again once it is lost.” – Stephen Miller, National Policy Director
First of all, here’s Trump going on and on about “internet freedom” and “free speech.” And yet… this is the very same candidate just a few months ago who talked about “shutting down parts of the internet” and mocking those who would say “oh freedom of speech” claiming anyone who fell back on that claim were “foolish people.”
So, apparently it’s okay to shut down parts of the internet, and those talking about free speech are “foolish people,” but a symbolic effort over who controls the domain name system must be stopped because internet freedom and free speech are too important.
More importantly, almost everything the Trump campaign says in those two short paragraphs about the transition is wrong. And it’s a really, really stupid and dangerous position to take for the internet. First off, as we’ve explained, the current link between the Commerce Department and ICANN and its IANA functions is more theoretical than real anyway. The US government really doesn’t have any official control here. It’s symbolic and that symbolism is doing a hell of a lot more to hurt the internet than to help it. Yes, Russia and China have, in the past, tried to take more control over internet governance via the UN/ITU, but that was stopped. But — and this is the important part — a big part of their rationale for trying to do so was the US’s “control” over IANA via the Commerce Dept. That is, keeping this small bit of internet governance loosely connected to the US government adds fuel to the fire for authoritarian governments to seek more control over the internet. And that doesn’t even get into the backlash that it will create if we go back on our word and refuse to complete the transfer of IANA away from the Commerce Dept (again, a largely symbolic move anyway).
But, don’t trust me. Trust basically anyone and everyone with any actual knowledge on the situation. Here’s Tim Berners-Lee, the guy who invented the web itself, explaining why the transition must go forward and why Cruz (and, by extension now, Trump) are totally wrong:
The global consensus at the heart of the Internet exists by virtue of trust built up over decades with people from all over the world collaborating on the technical design and operation of the network and the web. ICANN is a critical part of this global consensus. But if the United States were to reverse plans to allow the global Internet community to operate ICANN independently, as Sen. Cruz is now proposing, we risk undermining the global consensus that has enabled the Internet to function and flourish over the last 25 years.
Contrary to the senator?s view, ICANN is no ?mini-United Nations.? ICANN is a vital part of the voluntary, global network of private organizations that provides Internet stability and the ability to innovate free from government interventions around the world.
Berners-Lee makes it clear that going back on the transfer will put the US gov’t in the same kind of dangerous category that Cruz (and Trump) put Russia and China in:
But by forcibly undermining the global Internet community?s ability to make decisions about ICANN, the United States would stoop to the level of Russia, China and other authoritarian regimes that believe in the use of force to limit freedom online.
Tim Berners-Lee not good enough for you? How about Vint Cerf, recognized as one of the creators of the internet itself. He’s in favor of the transition too and has explained why people should stop freaking out about it.
If not them, how about Kathryn Brown, who runs the Internet Society. She also argues that delaying the transition is what helps the case for Russia and China, rather than the other way around:
Some warn that if the plan to transition authority on Oct. 1 is delayed, countries like Russia and China could try to shift domain name responsibilities to the United Nations, giving those nations more influence over global internet policy.
“Any delay would add a degree of instability and make the prospect of government control of the internet more likely, not less,” said Kathryn Brown, president of the Internet Society, a nonprofit organization that advocates open internet policies.
Or, how about Milton Mueller? The guy who literally wrote the book on internet governance. He’s now being quite vocal about how ridiculous the latest plan to block the transition via Congress is:
It vaguely suggests that the transition might create ?an opportunity for an enhanced role for authoritarian nation-states in Internet governance,? but provides no evidence as to how or why it does. In fact, if the U.S. is forced to abort the transition now it would play right into the hands of authoritarian states. Killing ICANN?s reforms through impulsive and arbitrary American action would fatally undermine the global Internet governance model rooted in nonstate actors. It would strengthen the case for national sovereignty-based Internet models favored by authoritarian states. ?Look,? they will say, ?the U.S. wants to control the Internet, why can?t we?? ICANN?s independence from unilateral U.S. government control is a logically and politically necessary consequence of its independence from all governments. By getting in the way of that, it is the Congressmen, not the Commerce Department, who are creating an opportunity for authoritarian states to enhance their influence in Internet governance.
The Congressmen suggest that ?this irreversible decision could result in a less transparent and accountable Internet governance regime.? But how? No reference is made to the actual reform plans. In fact, the transition brings with it major corporate governance changes that would significantly improve ICANN?s accountability and transparency. The transition brings with it a new set of bylaws that gives the public enhanced rights to inspect ICANN?s books, the right to remove board members, and the power to prevent the board from unilaterally modifying its bylaws. Under U.S. government supervision for the past 18 years, ICANN has been almost completely unaccountable ? yet this is the status quo they want to retain. By opposing the transition, the Congressmen are getting in the way of reforms that address the very things ICANN critics have been complaining about.
The congressmen claim that ?Questions have been raised about ICANN?s antitrust status.? Well, what questions, and what are their implications for the future of Internet governance? No answer. This is a phony issue. ICANN is not, and never has been, exempt from antitrust liability.
And so forth and so on. Part of the attempt to throw a wrench into the transition was Cruz claiming that Congress needs to approve the transition, as it has the power to determine if the government can “dispose of… property.” But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) just released a report basically saying that doesn’t apply here and the Commerce Dept is free to move ahead with the transition. Specifically, the GAO finds it to be ridiculous that the entire domain name system should be considered “property of the US government” because it’s not.
It is unlikely that either the authoritative root zone file?the public ?address book? for the top level of the Internet domain name system?or the Internet domain name system as a whole, is U.S. Government property under Article IV. We did not identify any Government-held copyrights, patents, licenses, or other traditional intellectual property interests in either the root zone file or the domain name system. It also is doubtful that either would be considered property under common law principles, because no entity appears to have a right to their exclusive possession or use.
In short, there’s a legitimate concern that Russia and China would like more control over the internet. But that’s the only point that Trump and Cruz get right. What’s astounding is that their preferred course of action — delaying or even blocking the IANA transition away from the Commerce Dept actually supports Russia and China in their efforts to gain control over the internet. So if you care about the future of the internet and how it is governed, could someone please educate Cruz and Trump that they’re doing exactly the kind of damage they claim to be trying to stop?