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
|Data Center||Policy & Regulation|
|DNS Security||Regional Registries|
|Domain Names||Registry Services|
|Intellectual Property||Top-Level Domains|
|Internet of Things||Web|
|Internet Protocol||White Space|
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