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Ensuring Trust in Internet Governance

Bob Goodlatte

By Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

This week in Singapore, important decisions are being made about the future of the Internet at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) 52 conference. At stake are fundamental questions: Should the American people surrender stewardship over core technical functions that have preserved the open and neutral operation of the Internet since its inception? Should the Obama Administration cede this authority to an organization many consider to be non-transparent, unaccountable and insular? If the administration insists on a transfer, what guarantees, capabilities and conditions first should be demanded and stress-tested by the global multi-stakeholder community?

This discussion began with the surprise announcement by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency within the Department of Commerce, which asked ICANN to develop a proposal to transition NTIA's role as "the historic steward of the Domain Name System (DNS)." The announcement came as a shock to many who follow Internet governance issues and others who depend upon the Internet to communicate freely or conduct commerce around the world.

Indeed, NTIA's announcement appeared to directly contravene long-standing positions of both the legislative and executive branches that the United States should retain its stewardship in overseeing the management of the Internet for the benefit of users worldwide.

Since this announcement, the administration's process and the factors it weighed preceding this decision have not been fully disclosed. However, evidence suggests that the proposal to transition the responsibility for administering changes to all top-level domains, as well as serving as the historic guarantor of the DNS, was dictated not by technical considerations but rather in response to political motives. Moreover, questions persist as to whether the Obama Administration had the authority to commence such a transition without congressional oversight and approval in the first place.

In its original press release and subsequent communications, NTIA referred to two congressional resolutions, S.Con.Res.50 and H.Con.Res.127, which were passed by the 112th Congress. These resolutions affirmed House and Senate opposition to attempts by foreign governments and inter-governmental organizations to assume control over the Internet and generally endorsed the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance. These resolutions were specifically intended to signal U.S. opposition to efforts by other nations to enlist the United Nations and empower the International Telecommunications Union as the global regulator of the Internet.

However, neither resolution mentioned ICANN, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions that NTIA now proposes to transfer oversight over, or contained a suggestion, explicit or otherwise, that the United States should contemplate surrendering stewardship over the administration of these critical functions to ICANN or any other entity. In fact, two other resolutions passed in 2005, H.Con.Res.268 and S.Res.323, affirmed that operation and management of the Internet's domain name and addressing system should remain under the oversight of the United States. The administration's practice of playing fast and loose with clear statements of Congressional intent is not the way to inspire confidence, build support or work towards achieving consensus.

Serious questions remain about the wisdom of ceding this authority, as well as the specifics of any transition. Our committees have been conducting oversight of ICANN and we will continue to closely examine the processes of the United States government and ICANN as these transition discussions continue.

We welcome NTIA Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information Larry Strickling's recent acknowledgements that there are no hard and fast deadlines for completing this process. If the administration is determined to give up oversight of ICANN and the IANA contract, permanent improvements to ICANN's accountability and transparency are critical to building public and congressional trust for any proposed transition. Any consideration of such a transition must be done carefully and in close coordination with Congress, rather than in a unilateral way. Further, we encourage members of the public and the many constituencies with interests in this process to make their voices and concerns heard. We also encourage ICANN to ensure that whatever results from this process shows that the outcome emanated from a true bottom-up multi-stakeholder process and was neither imposed on nor unduly influenced by ICANN's leaders, staff, or members of its board.

The U.S. has served as a critical and responsible backstop against censorship and threats to openness and free speech on the Internet. As a result, the Internet has thrived. We must ensure that these principles remain intact for all Internet users across the globe. The future of the Internet as a medium for free speech, the flow of ideas and global commerce is at stake, and must be protected.

By Bob Goodlatte, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee

Related topics: Domain Names, ICANN, Internet Governance

 
   
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Comments

Interesting piece. Thought you might be Norman Payne  –  Feb 12, 2015 6:11 AM PDT

Interesting piece.  Thought you might be interested in what Assistant Secretary Larry Strickling said at the ICANN meeting in Singapore in a meeting of representatives of Government from around the globe: “Thank you for your question. So on your specific question about the role of Congress, they do not have a role in terms of approval this (IANA Transition) plan. We do not need Congressional approval in order to allow the plan to go forward.”

While he acknowledges that you can hold hearings, cutting Congress out of the approval process seems to dismiss the genuine concern that you and your colleagues have about this process.

Also – have your offices probed how this decision actually came about?  What or who prompted the White House to make this announcement in a vacuum, without input from Congress?  Were their self interested companies meeting with White House officials?  Was ICANN involved with the White House?  Sure this action was not taken on its own.

Thank you for your comments. I think Bob Goodlatte  –  Feb 12, 2015 1:40 PM PDT

Thank you for your comments. I think you might be interested in the hearing the House Judiciary Committee's IP subcommittee held last year (Should the Department of Commerce Relinquish Direct Oversight Over ICANN?).

http://judiciary.house.gov/index.cfm/hearings?ID=027833A0-0028-42E2-A14B-B9C8BA2576A6

There was no surprise Andrew McConachie  –  Feb 12, 2015 3:01 PM PDT

"The announcement came as a shock to many who follow Internet governance issues and others who depend upon the Internet to communicate freely or conduct commerce around the world."

No it didn't. It has been the intention since at least 1997 to transition ICANN away from an NTIA contractual agreement. As is stated in the NTIA's announcement.

And since the actual contract has an end date of Sep 2015.
http://www.ntia.doc.gov/files/ntia/publications/sf_26_pg_1-2-final_award_and_sacs.pdf

It didn't come as a surprise to me that the NTIA wanted to transfer IANA, "to the global multistakeholder community."

NTIA wants to transfer IANA to the John Poole  –  Feb 14, 2015 10:53 PM PDT

NTIA wants to transfer IANA to the global multistakeholder community--really? In Singapore at ICANN 52, ICANN and NTIA were pressuring stakeholders to hurry up and hand IANA over to ICANN--ICANN is not the global multistakeholder community nor truly representative of it. ICANN, a California non-profit corporation with an essentially self-selected Board of Directors, and no membership, is, and has been for years, largely captured by special interests within the domain name industry--that is why NTIA almost pulled the IANA contract away from ICANN in 2012. Nothing has really changed since then, except the Snowden revelations came to light and the U.S. is now under international pressure to let go of its historic role of Internet oversight. The idea that ICANN could fulfill NTIA's historic stewardship role is ludicrous based on ICANN's own track record. At the same time, NTIA has been less than fully honest in the announcement of its intentions. In March, 2014, NTIA said it wanted to be transitioned out of its role. What is NTIA's role? NTIA said then that its role was as historic steward of the Internet DNS with contract rights and authority over the IANA functions and Internet root zone. Yet, the ICANN-convened process, requested by NTIA, is only focused on the IANA contract, not stewardship responsibilites nor Internet root zone management! How dysfunctional--or disingenuous? Sometime after March, 2014, NTIA also, apparently, decided that ICANN accountability should also be part of this whole process--NTIA said nothing about ICANN accountability in March, 2014, but now NTIA's Larry Strickling says somehow that needs to be included in any proposal that is submitted to NTIA. WOW! Never mind that it will take years to both fully implement and then judge whether any ICANN internal accountability changes are effective, and to what extent. Meanwhile, NTIA still maintains Congressional approval is not needed for any of the transition process. Congress and the NTIA need to review this July, 2000, GAO report. NTIA also needs to be honest and transparent with the U.S. Congress, the American people, and the global multistakeholder community. NTIA (and ICANN) should accept the fact that a majority of people in the U.S., as well as a majority of the global multistakeholder community, justifiably lack confidence and trust in ICANN having sole power and authority over the Internet DNS. NETmundial principles, as well as historic principles of the free and open Internet, actually contravene this vision of an all-powerful ICANN, a single point of failure, with no external accountability nor oversight. I am currently a participant in the process ICANN convened at the request of NTIA. My views herein are only my own. Others have differing views. What is not helpful is NTIA being duplicitous or manipulative, less than fully honest and transparent, as indicated above. At this point, as both a U.S. citizen and member of the global multistakeholder community, I want NTIA transitioned out of its role, as soon as possible--NTIA is no longer an effective steward, and the world is demanding change. However, just walking away and leaving dysfunctional ICANN in charge is not the answer. The challenge is in coming up with an effective solution that has buy-in from the global multistakeholder community while ensuring a free, open, stable and secure Internet for future generations. External solutions to achieve this have been proposed and are currently being considered. I have personally sought input from Ass't Sec Strickling (with copy to Secretary Pritzker) without response. Hopefully Congress, the House and Senate, can get some answers and shed some light on NTIA's true intentions (e.g., why did NTIA exclude stewardship and Internet root zone management responsibilities, from the ICANN-convened process, and what are NTIA's future plans or intentions for those, specifically?).

a multistakeholder process is not necessarily a democratic process Charles Geiger  –  Feb 16, 2015 4:01 AM PDT

Thanks for the link to the hearing the House Judiciary Committee's IP subcommittee held last year. The remarks by the Head of the NTIA, Lawrence E. Strickling, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information are interesting. He refers several times to the (bottom-up) multistakeholder process, insisted that it is the Global Stakeholder Community that makes Internet Policy today, that the US Government has been a vigorous supporter of the multistakeholder model of Internet Governance from the start and that the Global Internet should be free from Government control.
This is all very interesting, but the fact remains that Multistakeholderism is a framework and means of engagement, but it is not a useful tool for running an organization. In a multistakeholder environment, it is nearly impossible to take clear-cut decisions. In every field of discussion you fill find a majority and minorities. In a democratic process, in fine, the majority will prevail. In a mutlistakeholder process, you try to satisfy everyone and may not be able to come to conclusions or decisions. 
Therefore a multistakeholder model of consultations may be OK for ICANN, but in my view, it should not replace some form of democratic control. The multistakeholder process decided by the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) for the Internet Governance Forum is good for discussion, brainstorming, and for the creation of new alliances. But the process itself was unable, up to now, to agree on new democratic structures for the oversight of the Internet. As long as we do not have a “United Nations Parliamentary Assembly” and some sort of “World Government”, there is probably no way out. I think therefore that the Government of the United States should continue to assume a role of democratic control over ICANN, at least until a somehow more appropriate structure for Internet Governance is found. For this, it could be interesting to explore other existing structures. There are at least two interesting models available, the ILO model and the IUCN model. ILO (the International Labour Organization) is the only tripartite U.N. agency with government, employer, and worker representatives. This tripartite structure makes the ILO a unique forum in which the governments and the social partners of the economy of its 185 Member States can freely and openly debate and elaborate labour standards and policies. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) is an international nongovernmental organization, based in Gland, Switzerland, and created under Swiss private law. IUCN is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organisation, with more than 1,200 government and NGO Members and almost 11,000 volunteer experts in some 160 countries. Also, the structures and bylaws of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and maybe the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) could also inspire a new Internet Governance model.

For those unfamiliar with Mr. Goodlatte's positions.... John Berryhill  –  Feb 18, 2015 4:40 PM PDT

Mr. Goodlatte favors privatization of military healthcare, social security, Amtrak, the strategic helium reserve, and the postal service, to name but a few.

This support of the government actually governing anything may be a career first, as Mr. Goodlatte has seldom encountered a government function which he believes should be run by the government.

Apparently, he has not yet found a campaign donor who wants to run the IANA function, but give it time.

Dear Mr. Chairman,FYI- some important analysis of Martin Otsieno  –  Mar 10, 2015 11:12 PM PDT

Dear Mr. Chairman,

FYI- some important analysis of the recent Senate Hearing on “Preserving the Multistakeholder Model of Internet Governance” here: "No Legal Basis for IANA Transition": A Post-Mortem Analysis of Senate Committee Hearing.  I suppose you can take this one to the Bank. 

Thank You. 
Martin O.

Dear Chairman Goodlatte,FYI Another Interesting commentary and Martin Otsieno  –  Jun 10, 2015 8:04 AM PDT

Dear Chairman Goodlatte,

FYI

Another Interesting commentary and analysis on perspectives of IANA transition and ICANN

Fadi's Resignation, Sepp Blatter's Resignation - Others Should Consider Resigning as Well…

Sincere Regards
Martin O.

Sub:Stakeholder Perspectives on the IANA Transition Martin Otsieno  –  Jul 13, 2015 9:47 AM PDT

Dear Chairman Goodlatte,

Below is the advance submission that DotConnectAfrica Trust sent to the Chairman of the House Sub-Committee hearing on Communications and Technology, Energy and Commerce Committee, United States House of Representatives, 114th United States Congress in advance of the Congressional Hearing on "Stakeholder Perspectives on the IANA Transition", on May 13, 2015

DCA's Submission to Congressional Hearing on "Stakeholder Perspectives on the IANA Transition"

Sincere Regards
Martin O.

CANN's hidden role in fierce battle over .Africa rights Martin Otsieno  –  Jul 16, 2015 2:32 AM PDT

FYI,

Domain-name overseer ICANN's pivotal role in a controversial fight over .africa is today revealed in full for the first time.

Unredacted: ICANN's hidden role in fierce battle over .Africa rights

Martin O.

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