from the let-it-go,-ted dept
Just a few months ago, we wrote up a decently long post explaining why the upcoming “transition” of a piece of internet governance away from the US government was both a good thing and not a big deal. You can read those two posts on it, but the really short version is twofold: (1) the Commerce Department’s “control” over ICANN’s IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) was always pretty much non-existent in the first place; and (2) even having that little connection to the US government, though, only provided tremendous fodder for foreign governments (mainly: Russia & China) to push to take control of the internet themselves. That’s what that whole disastrous UN/ITU/WCIT mess was a few years back. Relinquishing the (non-existent) control, with clear parameters that internet governance wouldn’t then be allowed to jump into the ITU’s lap, helps on basically every point. It takes away a key reason that other countries have used to claim they need more control, and it makes it clear that internet governance needs to remain out of any particular government’s control.
As we noted, this is all a good thing.
But for unclear reasons, Senator Ted Cruz keeps insisting that this “transfer” is about the US giving control over the internet to the UN. He’s ramped up this rhetoric lately as the transition gets closer:
“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.”
Except that’s hogwash. The plan does exactly the opposite. We’ve made this point over and over again, and thankfully others are doing so as well. Fusion has a long and detailed article that highlights that Cruz’s claims are a fantasy and have no basis in reality. It goes through the whole history of IANA (if you don’t know the story of Jon Postel and Joyce Reynolds, and how the two of them basically kept the internet running in their spare time for a few decades, you should…), but then points out that Cruz is just wrong:
To be clear: ICANN has about as much control over the internet as Ted Cruz has a grasp on how DNS actually works?which is to say, very little. But the perpetuation of the fiction that ICANN controls the internet is representative of the completely understandable human impulse to try and assign control of the internet to someone or something, particularly in a time where the systems that shape most users? experience of the internet are increasingly opaque and unaccountable to users.
Saying any one group controls the internet is as absurd as saying who ?controls? capitalism or globalization itself. But everyone has their version of control. Silicon Valley billionaires may insist we surrender to the invisible hand of the network, which simply chooses disruption and convenience over accountability and ethics. For the federal government, it?s far easier to accuse the private sector of being in control and thwarting national security than admit that mass surveillance is an expensive and incompetent tactic. For critics (or those who?d prefer that control be in their hands), it would be far simpler to point at a single oligarch or Bohemian Club or ICANN that needs to be overthrown; it might redeem what today at times seems like a fractal trainwreck of an internet, and somehow bring us back to John Perry Barlow?s never-realized promise of an independent cyberspace.
And it also points out that the biggest “threat” to how internet governance is handled is if Cruz actually succeeds in blocking the transition:
Mostly, when I asked people at ICANN about worst-case scenarios with the transition, they pointed to Ted Cruz?s efforts. The transition not going through?either through a blocking action from this current Congress through some legislative action or Congress just delaying until the next president comes into office?would not only undermine the work that a lot of people have already put into the transition plan, it also would create even further mistrust and frustration among countries like Brazil that continue to be frustrated by US control. Maybe that would be enough to justify a fragmentation of the root zone. Or it could just make it harder for the multistakeholder model to function by undermining trust in the community as a whole, making consensus harder to achieve. Which is kind of to say it could start to look a lot more like the US Congress.
In other words, as we’ve explained before, Ted Cruz’s concerns over the internet here are completely backwards. Up is down, black is white, night is day kind of stuff. Keeping the IANA connection to the US government is the kind of thing that opens up the possibility for Russia/China to exert more control over internet governance by routing around ICANN and its flawed, but better than the alternative, “multistakeholder” setup. Moving ICANN away from the US government, with strict rules in place that basically keep it operating as is, takes away one of the key arguments that foreign countries have been using to try to seize control over key governance aspects of the internet.
If Cruz fears foreign governments taking control of internet governance, he should do the exact opposite of what he’s doing now. Let the Commerce Dept. sever the almost entirely imaginary leash it has on ICANN. Otherwise, other countries’ frustration with the US’s roles is a much bigger actual threat to how the internet is managed.