Changes In Internet Governance Causing Fear Over Internet Freedom
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers or ICANN, is a nonprofit organization that coordinates the Internet's global domain name system Its subsidiaries manage the numbering system for IP addresses. In other words, ICANN regulates Internet access. ICANN operates closely with the US Commerce Department under a Memorandum of Understanding.
ICANN's charter calls for the organization to help preserve the operational stability of the Internet, promote competition, achieve broad representation of the global Internet community, and develop policies appropriate to its mission. In other words, ICANN is supposed to make sure the Internet remains free and open.
ICANN has, by and large, done an exceedingly good job keeping the Internet flowing freely and openly. You have to wonder why anyone would want to fix something that isn't broke, but that is certainly the case. Last month, the U.S. Department of Commerce, which currently oversees ICANN, announced that in 2015 oversight of ICANN would transition to a different—and still undetermined—group that would not be controlled by the United States.
Fear Over Internet Freedom Justified
Brett Schaefer, a senior research fellow in international regulatory affairs at the Heritage Foundation, is concerned that allowing ICANN to be run by an international group could allow totalitarian countries to control the Internet. “[These countries] want to censor the Internet,” Schaefer said. “They want people to not have access to other people’s ideas. They want to look at the political dissenters in their own country and say that ‘you shouldn’t have a voice.’”
Fadi Chehadé, president and chief executive of ICANN, the organization that controls website addresses on the Internet, is confident the United States’ ceding control of the organization won’t affect the free and open sharing of information. “We must make sure that ICANN will not fall captive to any one government,” Chehadé told the Heritage Foundation in an exclusive interview. “And we will do that.”
Chehadé, however, was adamant that “mechanisms” and “processes” would safeguard ICANN from such countries and would provide “early warnings” if any countries did attempt to end the era of open speech online. “Frankly, if we don’t get these in place, I would hope the U.S. government would send the proposal back to the community for more work,” Chehadé said. “And if they don’t, I will.”
Efforts To Stifle Internet Freedom
There are a great many countries that stifle access to the Internet in order to keep their people in the dark. China, Russia and Iran, just to name a few. Clearly, it's not a good idea to let these countries have too much influence over Internet governance.
That being the case, especially since the current operational structure runs so smoothly, why then does the United States want to cede control. I can't help but wonder if it's a maneuver to move the governing body further from Americans, so they are less likely to pay attention to changes that stifle the free and open exchange of ideas and commerce. If it further away, and not under the purview of the US government, it would be far easier to begin changing the Internet to something which is less free and open.
It's not such a crazy idea. As recently as the last few months, a great many Democrats have called for Fairness Doctrine legislation. This is legislation that would force broadcasters, television, radio, cable television and even Internet service providers to extend equal time and balance to conservative and liberal views alike.
Barack Obama has expressed many times that FoxNews and conservative talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh are a thorn in his side, as is Intelligent US Politics. And let's not forget that Obama's Justice Department illegally tapped the telephones of FoxNews reporter James Rosen.
Democrats haven't yet found a way to pass legislation to advance the Fairness Doctrine. Maybe ceding control over Internet governance to an openly anti-American organization like the United Nations is a back handed way of accomplishing the Fairness Doctrine, at least insofar as it concerns the Internet. If you can no longer read articles like this one in five years, you can assume I was prophetic. It would be a perfect opportunity for the left to begin eroding freedom of speech, would it not?
Today is the second day of a two-day meeting on Internet governance in San Paulo, Brazil, which will include conversations about oversight of ICANN. You can be sure that there are many things that won't be discussed. At least not openly.