Ex-White House tech chief: Internet giveaway ‘raises the stakes’ of Web governance

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Friday decision to cede management of the Internet to the global Internet community “raises the stakes” over the future of Internet regulation, according to a former chief White House tech policy advisor.

“The U.S. should continue to be resolute in its support for a free and open Internet,” former senior White House technology policy advisor Richard Russell told The Daily Caller. Russell also served as Senior Director for Technology and Telecommunications for the White House National Economic Council and U.S. Ambassador to the 2007 World Radiocommunications Conference during the George W. Bush administration.

“The Department of Commerce’s decision to transition away from its historical role as the keeper of the IANA [Internet Assigned Numbers Authority] contract raises the stakes when it comes to the future of Internet governance.”

IANA is the department within the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) that assigns Internet protocol addresses and maintains domain names for the global Internet, among other functions crucial to Web stability and maintenance. The Commerce Department has contracted this function out to ICANN since 2000, which in essence maintains the Internet map, showing all Web-connected devices where to find websites and servers.

“The Department of Commerce has for the last three Administrations done a good job of managing the IANA contract,” Russell said. “This light-touch oversight has allowed the Internet to blossom without government interference.”

Interference from governments or intergovernmental organizations is exactly what Web policy experts have been concerned with since the administration’s pre-weekend announcement, including a former high-ranking State Department official who speculated a likely transition to the United Nations – a move that threatens to weaken the cybersecurity of the Internet as a whole, and open up the possibility of a global Web tax based on destination, as some European telecommunications services have proposed.

A former Commerce Department official and chief of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, which oversees ICANN, said the Obama administration should not have made such an announcement without first soliciting the support of allied nations to develop specific criteria for a safe transition – and now the stability, autonomy, and security of the Web could be jeopardized as a result.

“The key to continued long-term growth and stability of the Internet is to ensure that Internet governance is dictated by the multi-stakeholder model that has served the Internet community so well,” Russell said.

Concern over the announcement has also spread to Congress, where South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune said such a transition cannot be taken lightly.

“The U.S. helped create the Internet, and we want to see it grow and stand on its own,” Thune, who is also a ranking member on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, said in a statement. “It doesn’t need a nanny state, or a collection of nanny states, trying to stifle it. It needs – and deserves – a strong multi-stakeholder system free from the control of any government or governmental entity and which keeps the critical IANA functions insulated from the politics of Internet governance.”

Thune said the committee would be watching to ensure any such transition – for which the administration gave a tentative date of October 2015 – adheres to a structural standard that keeps the Internet stable and free, implying there could be legislative action from Congress over Internet management if representatives aren’t convinced.

“While ICANN will convene the process to craft a transition plan for the IANA functions, we need all stakeholders who believe in an open and innovative Internet to participate in the conversation,” Thune said. “There are people who want to see the Internet fall into the grip of the U.N. or who would allow ICANN to become an unaccountable organization with the power to control the Internet, and we cannot allow them to determine how this process plays out.”

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