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October 03, 2016

U.S. Government Sets the Internet Free

WASHINGTON – The internet no longer is overseen by the U.S. government. On Oct. 1, the Department of Commerce handed the reins to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, the global nonprofit that has managed the web’s root zone since cyberspace went public.

ICANN is now free to pursue the objective the organization and the U.S. government have been working toward since 1998: allow “stakeholders” to govern the web themselves. Stakeholders are not rank-and-file users, but instead worldwide governments, non-governmental bodies, businesses, academics, engineers and the like.

Therein lies the problem for critics of the move.

Conservative congressmen in Washington, led by Sen. Ted Cruz [R-TX], have accused Commerce of “giving away” U.S. property in a way that could allow totalitarian regimes to gain control of the information superhighway.

In an August letter addressed to Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Cruz and three others pointed out that Iran, Argentina and Brazil have voiced support for moving ICANN’s headquarters out of the U.S. Should any regulatory facilities move to Beijing, the entire internet might become subject to Chinese censorship, the senators suggested.

“We have uncovered that ICANN’s [extant] Beijing office is actually located within the same building as the Cyberspace Administration of China, which is the central agency within the Chinese government’s censorship regime,” the senators wrote.

They also noted some American companies involved with the transition already had “shown a willingness to acquiesce” to Chinese demands ICANN assist with blocking some internet content.

“While this is certainly not illegal, it does raise significant concerns as to the increased influence that governments [may have] … as well as the culture of cronyism,” the senators wrote.

A last-minute lawsuit filed by four U.S. states met defeat when a federal court judge in Galveston, Texas, declined to issue an injunction to halt the transfer.

Stephen Crocker, chairman of ICANN’s board and one of the engineers who developed early internet protocols, said internet users will see no change or difference in their experience online as a result of the stewardship transition.

The internet community “validated the multi-stakeholder model of internet governance,” he said in a statement. “It has shown that a governance model defined by the inclusion of all voices, including business, academics, technical experts, civil society, governments and many others is the best way to assure that the internet of tomorrow remains as free, open and accessible as the internet of today.”

The Internet Society, a group composed of World Wide Web founders, also sees the transition as positive.

“The IANA transition is a powerful illustration of the multi-stakeholder model and an affirmation of the principle that the best approach to address challenges is through bottom-up, transparent and consensus-driven processes,” a statement from the group said.

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